Somewhere in the bowels of NRG, newly appointed Offensive Coordinator Bobby Slowik leafs through his playbook with deep consternation. As the architect behind the San Francisco 49ers passing game, Slowik’s offense was defined by misdirection, speed, and big play ability. One player encompassed all three attributes for the 49ers, Deebo Samuel.
According to Next Gen Stats, Deebo Samuel has led the league in yards after catch per reception (YAC/R) for three consecutive seasons. Two of those seasons, he also had the league’s least amount of “air yards”, aka how far down the field he was when he caught the ball. To summarize, Deebo leads the league in being a running back, at the wide receiver position.
The “Deebo Effect” forces defenses to flatten out and protect more of the field, horizontally. When the league has placed such a luxury on vertically stretching the defense, Slowik’s used Deebo to buck the trend.
Now, Slowik must recreate his prolific offense without a shred of the talent he previously had.
Let’s set something straight: Houston doesn’t have anyone close to Deebo Samuel from a size-speed-agility standpoint. And they don’t have to. For all his quality and attributes, trying to replicate Samuel is fool’s gold from a statistical standpoint. It’s also highly inefficient. In Deebo’s most-targeted games over the past two seasons the 49ers are 2-6 in 2021 and 4-4 in 2022. Deebo’s game-changing ability can also be a crutch to the team.
“All Deebo Samuel does is catch go routes” pic.twitter.com/gOEEcV6AJc— Alex (@SadNinersFan_) August 4, 2022
Houston enters the 2023 season with plenty of options at wide receiver, none of which particularly stand out. Robert Woods headlines the new receivers with over a decade years in the league. Woods was the cog in the Los Angeles Rams short-lived unprecedented era of offensive productivity. The Rams used Woods all over the field and embraced his versatility to confuse defenses. He has been on a steady decline recently and will be the David Justice of the Oakland A’s 2002 playoff run.
The acquisition of Noah Brown stands out from a physical standpoint. The ex-Dallas Cowboy is 6’2” and a fairly respectable deep threat considering his 4.56 40-yard dash time. His yards per reception have increased each of the last two seasons while he’s became a more integral part of the Cowboys offense.
John Metchie III presents a unique comparison. While the second-year receiver is an enigma at the NFL level, his undeniable ability to get open in space can replicate the misdirection and chaos Samuel causes.
The newest WR on the Houston Texans: Tank Dell pic.twitter.com/nn1fLXEe5c— Drew (@IndepthTexans) April 29, 2023
The X-factor is still lacking. While Tank Dell’s profile is undeniably different than Deebo, he possesses an ability to make people miss that doesn’t exist elsewhere on the roster. Dell doesn’t accumulate 32 TDs over three years without being a mismatch and game breaker in his own right. We’re trying to manufacture big-plays and Dell will be the Houston Texans calling card moving forward.
Finding another Deebo won’t happen. If Houston is going to bring the 49ers offense from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast, they’ll need to fashion together the receivers they do have into something special.