No San Francisco 49ers have been more impressive than wide receiver Deebo Samuel this season. This year, Samuel has made highlight after highlight and currently ranks second in the NFL with 979 receiving yards. In his weekly press conference, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan answered several questions about Samuel’s development and impact on the field.
Drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft, Samuel had an impressive rookie season but was slowed by injuries throughout 2020. Now amid an undeniable breakout performance, Samuel has solidified his place among the league’s top receivers.
Beyond his impressive abilities on the outside, Samuel has also separated himself with his physical running style. The Niners deployed him at running back several times this Monday, where he racked up more than seven yards per carry. Shanahan dove into the impact it has on an offense when a receiver like Samuel can contribute in multiple ways.
“Everything is personnel driven and who the matchups are. And it’s the same thing with how big of a deal it is having a fullback who can also go out there and play outside of the box. Like we have with Juice [FB Kyle Juszczyk]. And then when you have receivers who can go back to running back and also receivers who don’t mind doing some stuff that a fullback would do, especially if you’re playing a receiver and you use them as a fullback, you might be going against a nickel as opposed to a linebacker. So there’s all those different matchups you can do. And when you have willing guys who have the ability to do it, but they’re also physical enough to do it, it just helps you come up with a lot of things to put players in positions to make it easier for them.”
Yet Samuel’s improvement over the first three years of his career spans more than one aspect of his game. When asked about the source of his improvement, Shanahan pointed to his approach, crediting him for keen attention to detail. He also mentioned former 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, acquired via trade during Samuel’s rookie season, for helping Samuel take the next step in his career.
“I think it helped a ton for him [Deebo Samuel] when [Buffalo Bills WR] Emmanuel [Sanders] came here. That’s when I saw the biggest. Deebo is one of the guys who we were counting on a lot as a rookie. And I think when Emmanuel got here, he really saw a true pro and not just how he prepared, but how he attacked practice every day. And Emmanuel only knew one way, like he went as hard as he could all the time and if he couldn’t, you had to protect him from himself. And I think it was really cool for Deebo to get to see. I think that’s why they clicked so much. And then coming back into a second year, I know how hard he was preparing to not have a sophomore slump. And then he had those injuries, which kind of made it inevitable. And to watch the frustration he had all year, you could tell he was very hungry coming into this year.”
Sanders signed with the New Orleans Saints the following offseason in free agency and is currently with the Bills. However, his impact on the 49ers appears to be continuing through Samuel.