We’ve talked about the San Francisco 49ers wide receivers all week for a good reason. It’s becoming more and more difficult to trust this group. Seven drops in a game will be tough for any team to overcome. Deebo Samuel was responsible for one of those drops. The rookie was also responsible for eight catches, 112 yards, five first downs, and breaking four tackles.
This type of mentality isn’t anything new for Samuel, as he told NBC Sport’s, Jennifer Lee Chan. It started at a young age for Samuel when his youth football coach said, “every time you have the ball in your hands, try to get it into the end zone.”
Two of Samuel’s catches against Seattle resulted in some angry after the catch runs. He was dragging Seahawks’ defenders and refused to be brought down by one guy. Deebo wouldn’t describe it as angry. He said that’s always been his mentality. That mentality may have come from someone he watches every day:
“I watch George,” Samuel said. “He kind of has the same mindset. I’ve never seen one guy bring him down so it’s kind of like the mentality I play with. I know what it is and know what it takes to be back there and the hits that they take. DBs out there, they’re not guys that like the physical stuff. So if they see a receiver trying to bring it to them, you know they want to hit low. Not too many people want that contact.”
The last sentence is a big one, and it’s true. That’s why you see comparisons to Anquan Boldin, who used to bring the contact defenders, not wait for them to initiate it. When you play like this, at worst, you get an extra yard or two. At best, you average 7.5 yards after the catch, which is what Deebo is doing. That number is the best in the NFL among players that have at least 40 targets.
As Samuel’s game continues to evolve, the focus drops will need to be eliminated. Samuel has five drops on 41 targets. Again, not all drops are created equal. Deebo’s drop on Monday night football was a “focus” drop that is him running before he has the ball in his hands. Those are an easy fix. If he were “fighting” the ball, or constantly bobbling it, I’d be worried. One reason not to worry? Let’s go back to 1985.
Rookie Jerry Rice has 26 receptions in 11 games. He also dropped ten passes. Rice was booed as a rookie. “He was often wide open when the ball bounced off his hands.” The greatest receiver to ever play the position was synonymous with dropping passes as a rookie. If you check that article out, Rice continued to drop passes as the season went along.
He turned out okay.
The point isn’t saying Deebo will be the next Jerry Rice. I’m not saying that drops are excusable, either. What I am saying is that when you have so much else going for you, it’s easy to look past the drops. Samuel makes tough catches; he lays out, he fights like hell when the ball is in his hands. It’s not easy for a rookie receiver to come in and make an impact. Samuel has, despite the drops.