As soon as 49ers’ MVP Deebo Samuel fell down, grimacing on Sunday afternoon. I’m confident that everyone had the same thought — “Uh oh, how long is the 49ers’ best offensive player going to be out for?”
Luckily, the news wasn’t as bad as the 49ers will likely be without their star offensive weapon for the next 1-2 weeks. Samuel will undoubtedly miss the Week 13 matchup in Seattle but has an outside chance to return vs. Bengals in a pivotal game the following week.
Kyle Shanahan has practically constructed this offense around Deebo Samuel’s strengths this season by getting him the ball in a variety of ways and allowing him to create after the catch. They’ve found the way to get Samuel the ball near the line of scrimmage, over the middle of the field, down the field, and even in the backfield as a running back.
There’s no other player like Samuel on this 49ers’ roster — hell, there’s no other player like him in the NFL. Samuel brings a unique skill set, which, combined with one of the most intelligent play designers, has turned him into an Offensive Player of the Year candidate.
Over their three-game winning streak, Samuel has accounted for 305 yards of total offense, or 28 percent of their total yardage. He’s also chipped in five touchdowns during that span as well.
It will take some creativity from Kyle Shanahan and some of the other skill players to elevate their games in order to replace what Samuel brings to the table.
Shanahan and his offensive staff will have to lean more on Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle in the receiving game with the absence of Samuel.
Aiyuk has really come on as of late, adding 13 catches for 202 yards during this win streak while also playing like a bully in the run game. Kittle has been asked to do less this past week vs. Vikings in the passing game but added three red-zone touchdowns in the three previous weeks. These two players will certainly need to step up their game and have at least 150 yards receiving between the two of them.
Jauan Jennings has started to earn the trust of the 49ers’ coaching staff and is developing into the 2021 version of Kendrick Bourne, becoming a reliable pass catcher on third down and in the red zone. In addition, Jennings will likely start at one of the wide receiver positions opposite of Aiyuk, which means that his target shares and snap counts will see an uptick.
In the run game, the 49ers will likely be getting back JaMycal Hasty to go along with Elijah Mitchell and Jeff Wilson Jr. Samuel’s arguably been the best running back on this team the last two weeks, adding explosive touchdown runs from different parts of the field. Getting back Hasty will give Shanahan another weapon out of the backfield, who can also catch passes.
Another player that can likely aid in replacing some of Samuel’s production will be Kyle Juszczyk. The Seahawks always seem to struggle to cover Juszczyk in prior matchups, and I’d expect more of the same this upcoming Sunday.
While Bobby Wagner is having a fantastic season, Jordyn Brooks has been a liability in coverage, and I’d imagine Shanahan will try to isolate Juszczyk on Brooks in coverage.
There isn’t one simple answer for how the 49ers will replace one of the game’s premier offensive players, but they still have a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, with one of the best offensive minds in the headset. For 1-2 weeks, I think the 49ers will manage to find creative ways to replace Samuel’s impact on this offense.