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Deebo Samuel is the red zone answer the 49ers are looking for

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The San Francisco 49ers drafted WR Deebo Samuel with the 36th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Find our draft profile of Samuel below.

Kentucky v South Carolina Photo by Todd Bennett/GettyImages

Editor’s note: From April 9, 2019

Yesterday, we went over how Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown could interest Kyle Shanahan. Earlier today, the San Francisco 49ers were linked to two wide receivers in the draft. We haven’t really talked about Deebo Samuel. The former South Carolina standout scored 11 touchdowns while averaging over 14 yards a catch last year. Samuel is one of the best receivers in the draft after the catch. He’s a pain to bring down. He’s much more than an athlete, and that’s what we will highlight today.

Winning at the line

Deebo makes it look easy at the line of scrimmage. You like to see guys win just as much whether they have the ball or not. For Samuel, he does both. Here he is, to the bottom of the screen.

At the line of scrimmage Samuel is both aggressive and decisive. Plenty of receivers are quick enough to win, but often times you see receivers take too long to win their release.

There are two sides to every coin, though. Samuel understands the nuance side of route running. Watch the bottom of the screen again.

It might seem like he took longer than you’d like here, but this is one of the better reps you’ll see this draft. You’ll see plenty of receivers “dance” without gaining any ground. Samuel attacks the corner while faking to go outside. He has shown that he can win a handful of ways. He was equally as effective during the Senior Bowl.

Samuel is superb at the line of scrimmage.

Moss drill

Samuel is 5’11”, but you’d never know it by how he plays the ball in the air. Samuel having a 39” vertical wasn’t too surprising. He can definitely play “above the rim.” Samuel is very good at making plays in traffic. It’s more than his athleticism. Samuel times his jump well, contorts his body to get the best position for him, while shielding off the DB all at once. It’s impressive.

Winning in the air is an area where the 49ers could stand to improve. Being open in college and the NFL are two very different things. That’s what makes guys like Deandre Hopkins special. They are able to consistently make plays with defenders draped all over them. I’m not saying Samuel is Hopkins in that regard, but he’s shown in just about every game that this is an area that won’t be an issue for him in the NFL.

Where he must improve

For every highlight catch Samuel makes, he’ll mix in a focus drop. That doesn’t worry me too much. Where Samuel must improve is at the top of his route. Everything above where he excels is where he lacks when he goes to cut. Whether it’s rounding his routes or taking too many steps out of his breaks, Samuel puts himself in contested situations that he shouldn’t have to be in.

Here’s what I mean by extra steps. I’ll show one example when Samuel was and wasn’t targeted. Using my pal Ted’s play first.

Count the steps. You’d like to see Samuel take no more than two, maximum. Those extra steps cause Samuel to drift in his routes and lose ground. That’s how the CB makes a play. Check this play out when he was targeted. Too many wasted movements.

The ball is late, but look at Samuel drifting. That’s consistent when you watch him. That’s an area Samuel will have to become more efficient.

The fit

We haven’t talked about Samuel after the catch. For some insight, 600 of Samuel’s 882 yards in 2018 were after the catch. He’s so tough to bring down. When a guy is that good with the ball in his hands, you give it to him often. Samuel will get you out of some tough situations just by creating on his own. Samuel had seven rushing touchdowns during his time at South Carolina.

I do think Samuel needs to improve his footwork at the top of his routes. I also think that he struggles to sustain his suddenness prior to getting the ball. If that’s the biggest gripes, we’re talking about a good player.

Samuel can help the 49ers at ever level of the field. Most importantly, he can help them score touchdowns and take pressure off Jimmy Garoppolo.