Deebo Samuel’s name gained a lot of buzz after putting in a strong week of practice at the Senior Bowl. He carried that momentum all the way up until April, and the San Francisco 49ers made him the 36th pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Do his injuries in college make him a risk, or is he a rookie in which you should be investing in your dynasty leagues?
Deebo Samuel wasn’t the healthiest player in the country during college, missing time in 2015 (freshman year), 2016 (sophomore year) and 2017 (junior year). Let’s start with 2015 when Samuel injured his hamstring in the season opener against North Carolina. Samuel had an immediate chance to be a contributor for the Gamecocks in 2015, starting in Week 1. However, out of a possible 12 games, he only appeared in 5 games, starting in 3. It’s unclear if Samuel would have remained a starter for the entirety of the year had he not been limited by his hamstring. A similar trend continued in 2016, with Samuel only playing in 10 games. This time around, he missed 3 games due to a second hamstring strain.
In 2017, Samuel’s season was cut short due to a broken leg early in the season. In South Carolina’s third game of the season, Samuel fractured the fibula in his left leg after a defender landed on top of his leg, causing it to rotate externally beyond normal limits (we start at 1:42 in video linked here).
This mechanism of injury is classic for a fractured fibula with an associated high ankle sprain. When the lower leg is rotated externally, the ligaments that connect the two lower leg bone (tibia and fibula) get stretched, and in extreme cases, torn. Samuel underwent surgery to stabilize the fracture less than a week after the injury and immediately began his rehab shortly after. For reference, this is a very similar injury to that of Odell Beckham Jr. from 2017.
Deebo entered 2018 with question marks due to his health, but he put those questions to bed with an impressive senior season. He posted career highs in games played (12), receptions (62), yards (882), and TD (11). The optimal recovery timeline after a fractured fibula with a high ankle sprain is between 6-9 months. After an impressive senior season and about a year and a half removed from his injury, Samuel is well beyond this timeline, making the injury concern quite low.
A fractured fibula is one of those “freak” injuries that’s nearly impossible to predict. As seen with Beckham and Samuel, it tends to happen when a ball carrier or receiver is getting pulled to the ground, and the defender rolls on top of the lower leg while the foot is still planted in the ground. Therefore, this is not likely to be one of those recurring injuries that we see pop up over and over again throughout his NFL career. However, Deebo’s history of hamstring problems in college will make him more prone to recurring hamstring injuries during his time as an NFL player. Fortunately, however, for Samuel, he doesn’t profile as a guy who wins downfield as a deep threat, like a Will Fuller for example. These types of players who rely on their top end sprinting speed are the types of players who typically struggle with recurring hamstring strains. Samuel tends to win in a variety of ways, displaying quickness in the short to intermediate passing game, and while that does stress the hamstrings, it doesn’t stress them as much as the long speed, maximum effort sprinting does.
The only real red flag for me in regards to Samuel’s injury history is his recurring hamstring strains. Research literature in the rehab world is conclusive across the board – the single biggest risk factor for a hamstring injury is a prior hamstring injury. In fact, a previous hamstring strain has been shown to increase the risk of a recurrence two to six times. In addition, recurrent hamstring strains have been shown to result in significantly more time lost than first time hamstring strains.