South Carolina football: Deebo Samuel versatile NFL Combine

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) during warms up against the Detroit Lions during an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept.  12, 2021, in Detroit.

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel (19) during warms up against the Detroit Lions during an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, in Detroit.

AP

There’s little that’s subtle about Ole Miss receiver Dontario Drummond.

He’s stocky and sizable at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. His film includes clips of the 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns he caught during the 2021 season. There’s also the big, bouncy hair and bursting speed that make him stand out.

His NFL comparison, though? That’s a simple seven-word answer.

“I model my game after Deebo Samuel,” Drummond said Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine.

That Samuel has become an NFL prototype seemingly overnight isn’t a spectacularly new development in scouting circles. Football, at its core, simultaneously breeds creativity and copy cats.

But in a world where “Taysom Hill-types” and “Lamar Jackson-esque talents” have been added to professional football’s growing list of jargony descriptors, it’s Samuel whose name popped up continuously in Indianapolis this week when player press conferences began.

“We get the same thing in our meetings,” San Francisco 49ers general manager John Lynch fitted. (You ask), ‘Who’s the player you try to play like?’ — I mean, we even have defensive players saying Deebo. And I think that speaks volumes for who he is.”

Samuel may be part receiver, part running back, but he’s all parts dynamic in a way the NFL has rarely, if ever, seen.

His 1,405 yards receiving in the San Francisco 49ers’ march to the AFC Championship ranked him fifth among all NFL receivers. He also sat in a tie for 10th in the league in rushing touchdowns despite only 59 touches.

Those numbers earned the former Gamecocks pass-catcher first team All-Pro honors from the Associated Press. A first career Pro Bowl nod also followed.

Now college players are hoping to project like Samuel.

“Herm Edwards used to tell me, ‘You can be special when you have that skill and when you have that elite will,’” Lynch said. “And I think when you watch Deebo play, that’s what I see. It’s inspiring. It lifts everyone.”

As players cycled through the podiums scattered around the interview room at the Indiana Convention Center on Tuesday, Samuel’s swift impact on the game despite just one true standout season was evident.

Drummond enumerated his comparison to the one-time South Carolina star. Arkansas’ Treylon Burks — who ranks among the top receivers in the 2022 draft class — also listed Samuel among his pro comps. As did big-bodied Texas Tech receiver converted and high school running back Erik Ezukanma.

“I’ve watched a lot of Deebo Samuel,” Burks explained. “The way that he plays, running back, plays inside, plays outside. … So I try to mimic my game after him.”

Added Ezukanma: “My versatility is really my biggest asset. I’m still trying to improve as a receiver, but most guys, I feel, don’t have the versatility on the field where they can get put anywhere and still make big plays.”

That Samuel has promptly become a commonplace descriptor for NFL prospects is multi-faceted. At its base, he’s one of the most exciting players the league has to offer, and teams would love to capture a carbon copy of his ability. Beyond that, there’s an insistence on winning in the NFL that ushers in the copying and usage of player styles and schemes from the organizations on top.

Lynch, who played 14-plus years in the NFL at safety, joked Tuesday he never wanted to sit on the bench during his days with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last he’d miss a chance to watch dynamo fullback Mike Alstott.

The same has been said for Hill — who drew countless headlines in recent years as a gold-and-black Swiss Army Knife for the New Orleans Saints in brief spells of quarterback Drew Brees.

Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, too, has re-calibrated how scouts and executives look at quarterbacks who are perceived to be run-heavy at the college level and how they might translate to the NFL in an rapidly pass-happy league.

“You have a good idea? It’ll last for about six weeks and then someone else will try and do it,” Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta joked. “You always have to try and be ahead. A few years ago, Lamar was probably a little different from everybody else. But now you see a lot of quarterbacks that have some of the same types of skills.”

Samuel’s ability as a receiver and runner isn’t without its complications. He’s due for a contract extension sooner than later as he heads into the final year of a rookie deal, per Spotrac. If he’s paid like a receiver, that deals stands to be more lucrative than that of a running back in this day and age of pro football.

Contract discussions, though, are fodder for another time and place. It also entails teams find their version of the next Deebo Samuel at the week-long combine and the months leading up to the NFL Draft.

Whether there’s another Samuel in this class or ever remains to be seen. Those in Indianapolis on Tuesday — Drummond among them — sure sound like they hope there is.

Ben Portnoy is The State’s South Carolina Gamecocks football beat writer. He’s a five-time Associated Press Sports Editors award honoree and has earned recognition from the Mississippi Press Association and the National Sports Media Association. Portnoy previously covered Mississippi State for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch and Indiana football for the Journal Gazette in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

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