This was Deebo Samuel’s week to lose.
A three-year standout at South Carolina, Samuel is everything the modern NFL desires. Samuel is versatile, fast, and sports a much larger catch radius than his frame would suggest. Though a decaying quarterback situation at South Carolina hindered Samuel’s opportunity to put up mind-boggling numbers, the skill set speaks for itself.
The challenge for Samuel heading into the week, however, was the simplicity of Senior Bowl practices. In team sessions, the schemes on both sides of the ball are watered down. Defenses can not blitz and may only run base defensive shells, such as Cover 2 from a two-high safety look. Likewise, offenses can not motion, use trips formations, or get into an empty set. In other words, it is a little tougher to manufacture space than a normal football setting, and Samuel is a player who thrives in space. Everything was set up to antithesize Samuel’s skill set.
Samuel knew it, too, and was prepared. During Samuel’s podium session on media night, I asked Samuel if the simple rules of the Senior Bowl brought a disadvantage for him during the week.
“I would say it kinda does, but then again it doesn’t. [The restrictions] just show that you are able to do multiple things,” Samuel said.
And boy, did Samuel show what he could do on Day One. It mattered not that Samuel could not do some of the gadget-y, Golden Tate-type stuff he does on film. Against a field of Senior Bowl cornerbacks all 6-foot and larger, Samuel flashed the craftiness to keep himself clean going through his route stem and abuse his take off speed to separate from the competition. Moving vertically or horizontally, or stopping altogether on a timing route, Samuel had little issue besting the defensive backs across from him.
Oddly enough, the seemingly do-it-all Samuel has one generally unexplored talent: punt returning. Throughout his career at South Carolina, Samuel returned four kickoffs for touchdowns, two of which were his only two return attempts as a junior before a leg injury cut his year short. Samuel’s combination of speed and natural feel for space made him a nasty kick return threat, but he was seemingly dog-housed from punt returning after a folly during his sophomore season.
“My sophomore year I dropped a punt and ever since then they didn’t put me back there. I just specialized being a kick returner,” Samuel said of his short stint as a punt returner.
Samuel seemed as amused as anyone at the idea of being dog-housed as a punt returner despite being a deadly kick returner. The speed, return experience, and willingness is all there, but one muffed punt at 19-years-old nixed his days as a punt returner. With a more open-minded and coaching staff, Samuel could get his chance to get his feet wet as a punt returner again, and it would only be a disservice to the 49ers staff if they did not get Samuel more reps as a punt returner in practices this week and in the game.
Whether Samuel gets more of that opportunity is to be seen (only by NFL teams on Day Two, unfortunately), but Samuel solidified his status here early. Samuel gave a first impression that screamed he was not versatile for lack of a true home at wide receiver, but because he is a true wide receiver and more. For teams not bound to rigid wide receiver roles, Samuel is the chameleon to slide in and blend into any scheme.
Who To Keep An Eye On
Nasir Adderley, S, Delaware: Though there were a few small-school stars coming into Mobile, Adderley was a class above the rest on film. At Delaware, Adderley could play anywhere in the secondary and displayed insane range on the backend. Adderley’s ability to read what was in front of him and be a step ahead of it was fantastic. Unfortunately, his first day in Mobile crushed any notion of versatility. Adderley could not match up in man and his click-and-close ability in the short area was strangely poor for most of the day. Given his raw talent and excellent career at Delaware, there is plenty of reason to believe Adderley will bounce back by the end of the week, but he should be tracked closely to see if he can flash the versatility he is known for.
Darnell Savage, DB, Maryland: This year’s cornerback crop is almost exclusively made up of 6-foot-plus guys. There are few capable nickel players in Mobile this year, but Savage is the clear exception. As mentioned after yesterday’s practice, Savage was the only guy capable of giving Andy Isabella trouble. Savage can be a versatile player, but his best role may be to stick in the nickel. K’Waun Williams needs to go and Savage could be a viable replacement.
Jakobi Meyers, WR, North Carolina State: Every Senior Bowl has a receiver that generates a “who the hell is that guy” reaction because they are constantly flying by people down the field. Yesterday, that was Meyers. No matter what drill or position group you were trying to focus on at a given time, you knew when Meyers had cooked some poor defensive back because it was clear even from a glance. If he keeps that up, Meyers could match the likes of Samuel and Isabella as the “favorites” from the week.
Deshaun Davis, LB, Auburn: Davis is a bulldog. Not only is that true of his play style, but at 5-foot-11 and 231 pounds, Davis rocks a short, compact build for a linebacker. Compared to the taller linebackers like Germaine Pratt and Cameron Smith, Davis may not get the same benefit of doubt, but he has all the tools to prove himself despite being on the shorter end for a linebacker.