Prior to the start of the season, I predicted Deebo Samuel would finish 3rd on the 49ers in targets behind George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk.
But Samuel currently is tied for 10th in the NFL in targets (20), 2nd in catches (15), and 2nd in 20-plus yard plays (4).
Through two games, Samuel is on a historic start and is leading the NFL in yards at 282, which is 6 short of the 49ers all-time record through 2 games (288, Bernie Casey, 1964).
Samuel has a certain chemistry with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. They just embarked on their third season together (more like second and a half) and have complementary skill-sets.
Samuel has been the focal point of the 49ers offense. He is tied for first in the league for target share at 36 percent, and he’s responsible for more than a third of the Niners passing game.
Garoppolo is known for the intermediate passes -- he is not going to push the ball down the field and outside the numbers. The 49ers also use lots of motion and actions at the line of scrimmage as an extension of the run game.
Samuel (in the 49ers offense) has been used mainly in these areas and excels in them. His ability to be a receiver in a running backs body makes him a run-after-the-catch monster.
He gets many designed plays in the intermediate area and around the line of scrimmage and Garoppolo’s passing chart shows that.
When asked about Samuel's fast start, Garoppolo was quick to praise his progression.
“Deebo has come a long way,' Garoppolo said. "He started off as more of an athlete for us, did some running for us, some catching. His route running has come a long way. His leadership on the field and off the field, he’s setting the tone for that receiver group. It’s translated to on field success.”
For the rest of the 49ers pass catchers, they’ve become secondary during these first two games. Kittle and Aiyuk (the other two YAC bros.) have combined for just 11 targets, 9 catches and 101 yards. Aiyuk in particular has struggled, getting only 2 targets for 1 reception and 6 yards.
Aiyuk is good in the intermediate part of the field, but Deebo is better, and Aiyuk thrives in the deep part of the field outside the numbers.
Of Aiyuk's 12 games last season, he had Garoppolo as the starting quarterback for five of those games. It's fair to question whether Garoppolo and Aiyuk have the wrong mix of skillsets and lack familiarity.
Aiyuk should be excited because the 49ers future at quarterback, Trey Lance, has a great skillset to utilize and maximize his strengths. Lance will be pushing the ball downfield and outside the numbers.
As long as Garoppolo is starting for the 49ers, Deebo will be one of the focal points, if not the focal point of the 49ers offense.
It's important to note that these next three weeks will be much more difficult matchups for the 49ers (vs. GB, vs. Sea, @ Ari), so it'll be tough to keep up this pace Samuel has started on. But he certainly has started the season on fire.