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2019 NFL Draft: Deebo Samuel is the playmaker the Lions need on offense

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Exit Golden Tate... enter Deebo Samuel?

NCAA Football: Chattanooga at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

With the loss of Golden Tate midway through the 2018 season, the Detroit Lions’ passing offense became a shell of itself. Matthew Stafford lost his safety valve, and no one could get open consistently, causing the Lions’ pass offense to end the year in the bottom-10 in terms of passing efficiency. The Lions still have a major hole to fill at wide receiver, specifically someone who can take reps in the slot and get open over the middle for Stafford. And when it comes to slot receivers, there may not be a better option out there than South Carolina receiver, Deebo Samuel.

Deebo Samuel, WR, South Carolina

5-foot-11, 215 pounds

2015 stats: 5 games | 12 receptions | 161 rec yds | 1 TD
2016 stats: 10 games | 59 receptions | 783 rec yds | 1 TD | 15 rush att | 98 yds | 6 TD
2017 stats: 3 games | 15 receptions | 250 rec yds | 3 TD | 2 rush att | 30 yds | 1 TD
2018 stats: 12 games | 62 receptions | 882 rec yds | 11 TD | 8 rush att | 26 yds | 0 TD

Current draft projection: Second round

Background

Team profile page

Voted first-team All-SEC as a return specialist and all purpose. In 2017, was on pace for an incredible campaign before breaking his leg against Kentucky. Majored in Retail Management at South Carolina. Yes, the nickname “Deebo” comes from the movie Friday.

Was just a three-star recruit and didn’t have many offers from big-named schools. Ultimately chose SC over UNC.

Strengths

  • Explodes off the snap with smooth release and is able to create early separation. Constantly has DBs in a frenzy to recover.
  • Very low drop rate throughout his career. Sure-handed receiver capable of making jaw-dropping catches away from his body.
  • Forced a ton of missed tackles at the LOS and in the open field; maximizes his yardage and is a master at earning yards after the catch.
  • Tough SOB. Not afraid to lower his head for some tough yardage. Occasionally delivered some nasty hits as a blocker.
  • Was the focal point of SC’s offense and is no stranger to getting the ball by any means necessary, whether it’s reverses, screens, gadget plays, etc.
  • Route technician. Sells his routes well and creates separation with ease. Very fluid and maintains his speed through his breaks.
  • Versatile. Has had monstrous success as a return specialist as well as a receiver. Two career passing touchdowns and four kick-return TDs.

Weaknesses

  • Essentially a slot only receiver with limited size and catch radius.
  • Doesn’t quite have elite speed, though I think he could test better than expected. Not likely going to blow the top off of defenses.
  • Can struggle in contested catch situations, especially on 50/50 balls where he has the length disadvantage and will get outmuscled.
  • Love that he’s willing as a blocker, but not nearly as technically sound as you’d eventually like him to be.

Games watched: 2017 vs. Kentucky, 2017 vs. NC State, 2018 vs. Clemson, 2018 vs. Missouri, 2018 vs. Vanderbilt

Overview and Projection

Stafford and the offense took a noticeable hit after the Lions decided to trade away Golden Tate and a lot of that was because he didn’t have any receivers left that could consistently create separation or get open early. Deebo Samuel makes running routes look easy and is arguably the best in the class at creating yards after the catch, exactly what the Lions are currently missing on offense.

Samuel is currently projected to land somewhere on Day 2, but a better than expected combine showing could push him up into the later picks of the first round. If the Lions can address one of their needs on defense in the first round and land Deebo in the second, they’d potentially be getting a couple of playmakers on both sides of the ball, which is exactly what Bob Quinn has been clamoring for this offseason.