Could Curtis Samuel play Deebo Samuel-type role for WFT in 2022?


It's hardly a secret that Curtis Samuel's first season as a member of the Washington Football Team was disappointing for all parties. 

Signed in part due to his versatility and positional flex, lingering groin and hamstring injuries that began during OTAs in May limited Samuel to just five games in 2021. The fifth-year veteran totaled just six receptions and 38 total scrimmage yards on the year, as he was simply a non-factor for a below-average offense.

While the 25-year-old struggled to stay on the field in 2021, a different Samuel -- no relation to the Washington wideout -- had a breakout campaign. That would be 49ers do-it-all receiver Deebo Samuel, who was named to the Associated Press First-Team All-Pro squad after totaling 1,770 scrimmage yards and 14 touchdowns. 

Although Deebo Samuel and Curtis Samuel had opposite 2021 seasons, there is plenty the Washington wideout can take from the 49ers star's game moving forward. Production aside, the two players have somewhat similar skill sets. But, there's one thing that both players have that only a handful of receivers can do: lineup at multiple positions, specifically in the backfield, and create mismatches for opposing defenses.

Curtis Samuel showcased such during his final year with the Panthers. In 2020, Samuel hauled in 77 passes for 851 receiving yards, both career-highs. But, he also carried the football 41 times for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Rushing totals that high were pretty much unheard of from a traditional wide receiver.

But in 2021, Deebo Samuel blew Curtis Samuel's 2020 production out of the water in both facets. 


Through the first eight games of the 2021 season, Deebo Samuel was one of the best traditional wideouts in the NFL. The 49ers star hauled in 49 receptions for 882 yards and four touchdowns during that span -- only Rams pass-catcher Cooper Kupp had more receptions and receiving yards through eight weeks.

But following an injury to running back Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco began to use Samuel more as a running back. After only registering six carries over the first eight weeks, Samuel carried the football 53 times for 343 yards and seven rushing touchdowns during the 49ers' final nine games -- including five straight games with a score via the ground. The third-year pro finished the season with eight total rushing TDs, the most by a wide receiver in NFL history.

Although Samuel's opportunities in the passing game diminished slightly once he became more utilized as a runner, he was was still plenty productive through the air, too. Samuel hauled 28 catches for 523 yards and two touchdowns over the team's final nine games and finished the year with over 1,400 receiving yards, the fifth-most of any player.

Samuel's rare versatility was on display this past Sunday in the 49ers playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys, as he finished with 10 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown on the ground while hauling in three catches for 38 yards through the air.

Samuel's emergence this season has elevated the 49ers' offense as a whole, too. In 2020, San Francisco's offense finished outside the top 20 in yards per game. This season, San Francisco finished seventh in yards per game -- with the highest yards-per-play of any team in the NFL. Plenty of that is due to Samuel, who led the NFL in yards per catch. But San Francisco's other offensive skill players, specifically George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk, all had strong finishes to the 2021 season as well.

For Curtis Samuel, putting up Deebo Samuel-esque numbers next season for Washington is an unfair expectation; Deebo Samuel's 2021 season was unlike any in NFL history. But for the Washington wideout, the goal shouldn't be to put up those lofty numbers in 2022. Rather, it should be to provide a similar threat to opposing defenses that Deebo did for the 49ers' offense.

When Washington signed Curtis Samuel this past offseason, the hope was that he would provide star wideout Terry McLaurin help. McLaurin had spent the first two seasons of his career as Washington's lone elite threat on the outside, which allowed defenses to constantly double- and tripe-cover him. McLaurin still managed to be productive, but another playmaker was desperately needed to elevate Washington's offense as a whole.

Injuries prevented that from happening in 2021, but there's plenty of reason for optimism in 2022. Samuel is finally healthy, he said as much during locker room cleanout last Monday. McLaurin and the coaching staff have constantly supported him throughout his trying season, as they're counting on him to be the difference-maker next season like the one he was in Carolina.


"I know he'll be back next year," McLaurin said last week. "It wasn't ideal, obviously, with him being banged up throughout the season. As a friend first, it was tough to see him go through that. But the way he still persevered and tried to play — any opportunity he had to still try to play, he was giving 110 percent. And just knowing how much he wanted to be out there and help us, help our offense. I'm looking forward to seeing how his offseason goes."

In 2022, Curtis Samuel should open up Washington's offense simply by just being on the field. He's dynamic with the football in his hands and in the past has proven to be a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses. Samuel expects to return to being just that next season.

“I’m a dynamic player. When I touch that ball things are gonna happen," Samuel said last Monday. "Just feel like being part of the offense, just gives them an extra weapon. Whatever the case may be – running, blocking – I’m a team player so it [doesn’t] really matter for me. I just want to be out there and make plays whether I got the ball in my hands or I don’t.”

The return of Samuel is hardly the only change that Washington's offense will see from 2021 to 2022. There's a solid chance a new quarterback is under center, as Ron Rivera said the team could be in the market for a veteran signal-caller. There's also free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft, which is another relatively deep class at the wideout position.

Yet, despite the changes that Washington makes offensively this offseason, the coaching staff and front office are counting on a big year from Samuel next season. His skill set is rare -- it bears repeating that there are only a handful of players capable of doing what he can. If Curtis Samuel is able to impact Washington's offense even remotely similar to how Deebo Samuel did for the 49ers this year, the Burgundy and Gold will easily forget about No. 10's lost 2021 campaign.

"Think about what he did in 2020. He was the most productive player per touch when he was in Carolina," Rivera said Tuesday. "He's a guy that we had drafted, I had drafted when I was there, got a chance to watch him grow and develop and saw how explosive he was for us and we know what his abilities are. Hopefully we can get him back here and healthy and ready to roll for us next season and it'll help open things up. It'll take a lot of pressure off a lot of people as well."