Ranking Deebo Samuel and the NFL's Most Versatile Offensive Weapons
With the hands of a receiver and the field vision of a running back, Deebo Samuel is developing into one of the NFL's most versatile players.
Across the league, several players have raised their value in multipurpose roles. In modern-day offenses, an increasing number of lead running backs can run and catch out of the backfield. Like Samuel, wide receivers can operate in space, which creates more opportunities for them on stretch run designs.
As coaches find creative ways to utilize the strengths of their most talented players, we've seen some eye-popping performances and the rise of intriguing offensive weapons.
We've ranked seven of the most versatile skill players, so the selections exclude primary starting quarterbacks to avoid a narrow focus on dual-threat signal-callers. The list emphasizes role flexibility, recent production and the impact a player has on his respective team's offense.
7. Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Atlanta Falcons
As a first-round pick out of Tennessee in 2013, Cordarrelle Patterson came into the NFL as a wide receiver with extraordinary kick- and punt-return abilities, but he hasn't played up to his draft pedigree in a pass-catching role.
This season, however, Patterson has become one of the top all-around playmakers under Atlanta Falcons head coach and offensive play-caller Arthur Smith. He's already accumulated a career-high 776 scrimmage yards and seven touchdowns.
Patterson leads the Falcons in rushing yards (303) and touchdown receptions (five) while listing second on the team in catches (39) and receiving yards (473). For a club without a featured running back, he's filled a void on the ground while posting his best numbers at wide receiver.
Patterson takes the seventh spot over upstart tailbacks such as Najee Harris because we've seen an influx of dual-threat running backs at the pro level, but other than Patterson, no other primary wide receiver can say he leads his team in rushing yards.
6. Taysom Hill, QB, New Orleans Saints
Through five pro seasons, Taysom Hill has only started under center in four games, so he makes the list as a non-primary quarterback entry. He's a gadget player, who's arguably the best Swiss Army knife in the league because of his ability to line up at four offensive positions.
Though Hill has played sparingly this year, in part because of a concussion that sidelined him for multiple games, he can take snaps at quarterback, running back, wide receiver or tight end.
In 60 career contests, Hill has thrown for 1,103 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions with a 71.1 percent completion rate. He's also racked up 1,301 yards and 21 touchdowns from scrimmage.
Critics may chuckle at the Saints for signing Hill to a four-year, $40 million extension, but he can fill more holes on offense than any other player on their roster because of his throwing, rushing and pass-catching abilities.
Hill doesn't perform at a high level in any of his roles, but he's truly a jack-of-all-trades talent, which elevates him above Cordarrelle Patterson.
5. Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers
At 6'0", 215 pounds, Deebo Samuel has the size and vision of a running back with the reliable hands of a lead wideout, logging a 68.1 percent career catch rate.
Samuel is one of the most dangerous playmakers in space because of his ability to separate from defenders after the catch or handoff. Head coach Kyle Shanahan has found ways to isolate the third-year wide receiver and allow him to make big plays with the ball in his hands.
This season, Samuel has recorded four 100-plus-yard receiving performances while averaging 18.1 yards per reception. Going into Week 12, he leads the league in yards after the catch (525) and yards per touch (15.3).
On top of listing second leaguewide in receiving yards (994), Samuel has contributed to the San Francisco 49ers' ground attack in recent outings.
Last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Samuel led the 49ers in rushing yards (79), and he's scored three touchdowns on the ground this season.
Already with a career-high in receiving yards, Samuel could climb the list of versatile playmakers if he can stay healthy. Unlike Taysom Hill, the 25-year-old wideout performs at least one of his duties (receiving) at a high level.
4. Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
Fantasy football managers in point-per-reception leagues certainly know about Austin Ekeler's versatility and rise to prominence this season.
For the fourth consecutive term, Ekeler has accumulated 530-plus rushing yards and 403-plus receiving yards. Barring injury, he's going to crush those numbers in 2021. The dual-threat running back has racked up a career-high 573 rushing yards and 405 receiving yards through 10 games while tying Arizona Cardinals tailback James Conner for second in touchdowns (13) from scrimmage.
Under Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who served as a quarterbacks coach for the New Orleans Saints between 2016 and 2021, Ekeler has blossomed in the mold of Alvin Kamara. He's a viable threat to break off long runs, score on goal-line snaps, split out wide and line up in the slot.
Ekeler isn't just an average dual-threat running back who handles a heavy workload, either. He's efficient, averaging 5.8 yards per touch, which is an impressive mark for a primary ball-carrier. For comparison, Detroit Lions pass-catching running back D'Andre Swift averages 5.1 yards per touch.
As one of the league's top pass-catching running backs this year, Ekeler gets the slight nod over Deebo Samuel, who's a wide receiver just starting to make a bigger impact as a ball-carrier.
3. Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
As mentioned above, Austin Ekeler compares closely to Alvin Kamara. They're similar in terms of how their respective teams use them, but the latter is more accomplished with better numbers in recent campaigns.
In each of his first four seasons, Kamara has accumulated 728-plus rushing yards and 533-plus receiving yards. With 530 yards on the ground and 310 yards through the air, he could extend that streak to five if he shakes off the injury bug in the coming weeks.
Despite missing two games because of a knee injury, Kamara leads the New Orleans Saints in rushing yards and receptions (32). With his skill set, he can compensate for the team's loss of wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle surgery) for the season while producing solid numbers as the primary ball-carrier.
Even in years past when the Saints had a healthy offensive unit featuring Thomas and now-retired quarterback Drew Brees under center, Kamara had a significant role, accumulating 1,330-plus scrimmage yards in each of his first four campaigns.
As the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year and four-time Pro Bowler, Kamara is more established than Ekeler and arguably the second-best dual-threat running back in the league.
2. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey stands atop the mountain of active pass-catching running backs. In 2019, he became the third player in NFL history to record 1,000-plus rushing and receiving yards in a single season—Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk last accomplished that feat in 1999.
Though McCaffrey has battled injuries since his 2019 All-Pro campaign, he's been a highly effective all-around playmaker when on the field.
Aside from Week 3 when McCaffrey exited in the first half with a hamstring injury, he's eclipsed 105 scrimmage yards in every game he's played this year. Despite missing five of 11 contests, he still ranks second on the Carolina Panthers in scrimmage yards (750) and averages six yards per touch, which ties his career high.
In the No. 2 spot, McCaffrey is the only active player who can say a single season with 1,000-plus yards on the ground and through the air is a reality of his recent past rather than a future goal.
1. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Tyreek Hill isn't a wide receiver who leads his team in rushing yards, a positionless playmaker or a dynamic running back, but he's arguably the best deep-ball pass-catcher with blazing speed, which allows the Kansas City Chiefs to feature him in the vertical passing game and on gadget plays.
As a receiver, Hill can cause all sorts of problems for defenses. He's effective on the boundary and in the slot. Kansas City can move him around before the snap to exploit advantageous matchups.
Hill can outrun bigger cornerbacks and use his leaping ability to high-point contested balls downfield. The 5'10", 185-pounder also beats safeties, linebackers and nickel backs on shorter routes with quick cuts, an uncanny ability to change direction and breakaway 4.29 speed.
Though Hill doesn't have a consistent role as a ball-carrier, he's racked up notable rushing numbers through six seasons, logging 92 carries for 717 yards and six touchdowns during his career. Also of note, Hill has moved the chains for first downs on 32 of his carries. Defensive coordinators must account for him when he's lined up in the backfield.
Hill has led the league in yards per touch twice, which underscores his big-play ability in the aerial attack and separates him from the other versatile playmakers on this list. He can change the complexion of a game with one reception. For his career, the two-time All-Pro receiver has 21 40-plus-yard touchdowns catches, which accounts for about 38 percent of his total scores (55) through the air.
Simply put, Hill is a one-of-a-kind matchup nightmare.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.