Deebo Samuel is dominating the news cycle right now and wouldn’t you know it, the Dallas Cowboys are front and center in the corresponding buzz. Samuel, arguably the top offensive weapon in the NFL, is unhappy in his role with the 49ers. Entering year four, he’s looking to get paid. He’s also looking for a new role and a change of scenery.
Enter the Dallas Cowboys.
Because no news story is complete until some connection to America’s Team is made, the Dallas Cowboys were quickly linked to the Deebo Samuel story. Logical/founded/realistic or not, we’ve seen Deebo pop up in nearly every Dallas media outlet this week. Why?
Deebo Samuel is a great 2-pronged weapon who would elevate the Dallas Cowboys offense, but keep dreaming…
The first part is important to make clear: Deebo Samuel is an amazing player. Perhaps he’s even the best offensive weapon in the entire NFL. Deebo’s expected points added each play are in record-setting territory so the facts certainly support that bold statement.
It’s not just when he touches the ball either. As with most transcendent playmakers, Deebo has a trickle down effect on the entire offense when he’s on the field.
Statements from Camp Deebo this week indicate he’d like to be used more like a WR and less like a RB. So it seems the NFL’s most versatile and unstoppable weapon wants to be less versatile. This is said news to anyone who’s been watching and appreciating his usage and certainly impacts his value going forward. Let’s look at that value…
As you can see above, Deebo isn’t just an efficient running back, but he’s even the second most successful from the most worthwhile of volume stats, total EPA. He’s not a traditional rusher by any means but his EPA production and NFL-leading elusive rating say he’s the best rusher in the league so when he says he wants to push that phase of his game to the backburner, you need to pay attention.
Deebo’s not a traditional rusher, but his EPA production and NFL leading elusive rating say he’s the best rusher in the league
Sifting through PFF numbers, Ben Solak came across something shocking: The 49ers average .346 EPA when Samuel is in the backfield and .472 when he gets the ball. To put that .472 in perspective, the Dallas Cowboys are negative EPA when Ezekiel Elliott get the ball out of the backfield and .137 EPA on Dak Prescott drop-backs (top half of NFL).
Heck, the top EPA passer in the NFL last year, Aaron Rodgers, was .257 EPA/drop-back last year and Samuel blows that number out of the water. This kind of production is unheard of.
What about as a traditional WR? Is Deebo a brilliant weapon there?
Looking at yards per route run (YPRR) we can gauge his value when he’s actually running routes and playing a more traditional WR role. Welp, with 2.93 Deebo finished second in the NFL behind only Cooper Kupp and well ahead of Devante Adams, Justin Jefferson and Tyreek Hill.
Where he really breaks the mold is in yards after the catch. Deebo Samuel doesn’t just lead the NFL in YAC/R, but he broke records. His 10.8 YAC/R is the highest PFF has ever recorded. EVER. And the closest anyone has ever come to that double-digit figure is was DeSean Jackson who had 8.0 in 2010.
Much of his damage comes in the middle of the field in the intermediate-to-deep range too. So he’s not just that screen and gadget guy some people are making him out to be.
The takeaway is this: DeeBo has been the most effective offensive weapon in the NFL. Even if you dramatically reduce his carries as a wing back, he’s one of the best WRs in the game so he’s well worth his contract demands of $25M/season.
But as we’ve seen around the NFL this year, top offenses find WRs replaceable and are happy to take the picks over the player (see also Tyreek Hill and Devante Adams). Any team that’s willing to part with picks AND pay the contract demands is either desperate or going all-in for a Super Bowl. Neither of which apply to the Dallas Cowboys.
I can’t imagine any world Stephen Jones gives up valuable picks AND pays the money – no matter how talented the player may be. In other words, an Amari-like trade won’t be happening anytime soon.
Looking back to the chart on my top tweet, I don’t see how the 49ers can afford to lose Samuel. The entire offense revolves around him. Their EPA is over 4x more productive with him on the field. In fact, the 49ers EPA turns negative with him off so their offense technically does more net harm than good when he’s on the sideline. It’s for that reason I’m not entirely sold on the idea he’s really on the market.
If you want to upgrade the Dallas Cowboys look to the draft because at this point that’s the only way forward for the Cowboys.