A handful of players in recent years came from an FCS background and transitioned into impact receivers at the NFL level. Among them are the reigning super bowl champion Cooper Kupp and his former college teammate Kendrick Bourne, both players who 49ers fans are quite familiar with.
The next player that is poised to make that leap? Allow me to introduce you to Samori Toure, who spent his first three years playing at the FCS level for the Montana Grizzlies despite playing this most recent season at Nebraska.
Toure is a player who is skyrocketing up draft boards after an electric pro day in Lincoln that saw him post numbers that were on par with the best at his position in this class. The 49ers also expressed interest after it was confirmed that wide receivers coach Leonard Hankerson met with Toure on Monday.
I had the chance to speak with Toure this week, and he gave me some great insight into his journey as an NFL prospect. His story is quite fascinating, as Toure only had one full scholarship offer coming out of high school, which came from Air Force.
Toure mentioned that Montana came in right before signing day and offered him a half scholarship to come football for them. Toure then turned that opportunity into a historic season in 2019, during which he set a school record for receiving yards with 1,495. That total ranked first in the Big Sky Conference, and second in the entire FCS.
Toure’s breakout season was highlighted by a playoff performance for the ages against Southeast Louisiana that saw him break a record that stood for over 20 years. In that game, Toure caught 12 passes for 303 yards, eclipsing the record previously held by Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss, who had 288 in 1996.
In a very short span, Toure went from playing on a partial scholarship to a player whose name is forever etched into the record books. That kind of triumph likely doesn’t surprise anyone who knows Toure well, as he made it very clear he was not someone who was ever going to back down from doing whatever it took to be great.
In his own words “I’m not someone who has ever had anything handed to them when it comes to the game of football. I’ve earned everything I’ve gotten to this point, and i want to continue to do so”.
After lighting it up on the big stage at the FCS level, Toure decided to take a big plunge into the unknown by transferring to the University of Nebraska. I asked him about what drove that decision, and he let me know that, in large part, it was about preparing himself for a potential leap to the NFL and making sure he was as well equipped as he could be for that transition.
“I wanted to go to a big FBS school in a conference like the Big Ten, so I could ball out at the FBS level. But also get myself ready for that next level, which I think worked out how I wanted it to.”
In his lone season at the FBS level, Toure certainly made his presence felt at Nebraska, leading the Cornhuskers in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns during the 2021 season. Toure’s 19.5 yards per reception ranked 7th in the entire country among receivers with at least 40 receptions.
Toure made a statement during the 2021 season, that he not only belonged at the highest level of competition, but was also going to be someone who deserved to be mentioned among the best players at his position.
Toure also stole the show at the East-West Shrine Bowl after his impressive season, where he found the end zone twice in the fourth quarter. Toure was the only player in the game to record multiple touchdowns.
Despite his high level of play both during the season, and the Shrine Bowl, he was not invited to the scouting combine in Indianapolis. I asked Toure if that added any extra fuel to the fire for him as he navigates this process, and this is what he had to say.
“It definitely gave me some extra motivation. I felt like I deserved to be at the combine, but that’s just not how it shook out, and that’s fine by me. It definitely gave me some extra motivation, knowing that pro day was my one shot. It was like pro day is my one opportunity to show the scouts what I can do, so i gotta leave it all on the field.”
Toure not only left it all on the field, but he also went out and put on a clinic. Toure ran in the 4.4’s during his 40-yard dash, showing off impressive straight-line speed that was apparent on the field as well.
While the north to south speed was impressive, where Toure really shined was the lateral movement and change of direction drills. Toure’s three-cone time of 6.77 seconds would have ranked him third amongst his position group at the combine, and his 4.22 short shuttle would have placed him fourth among the receivers in Indianapolis.
Toure made the most of his one opportunity to leave his mark on an NFL front office and based on those testing numbers. It’s fair to assume that he accomplished that and then some.
Toure’s success in those latter drills is certainly noteworthy, as 49ers head coach Kyle Shananan has historically sought after receivers who display that kind of short-area quickness. Kendrick Bourne had the third-fastest three-cone during the combine in 2017 at 6.73 seconds, eerily similar to what Toure put up at his pro day.
Speaking of Bourne, the NFL veteran has been a key cog in helping Toure’s preparation during this process. Bourne, who like Toure, is originally from the Portland, Oregon area, and on top of training with Toure, has also been a fantastic resource as a hands-on mentor that can provide guidance to a player who’s shoes he was in just a few years ago.
Having the ability to pick the brain and study the habits of not only a proven NFL receiver, but one with an FCS background, who also knows what it’s like to be overlooked and do what it takes to make it at the highest level is invaluable.
I asked Toure what the biggest thing he has taken away from his time working side by side with Bourne, which to nobody’s surprise, revolved around the former 49ers’ electric personality and relentless work ethic.
“I would say his work ethic and his energy. Every day when he comes into the gym, you see the same thing on the field, he just comes with that energy that’s kind of contagious. He kind of just brings up everybody that’s around him.”
“It’s been great to workout with him, see his energy, see his work ethic, and pick his brain a bit about being an undrafted or late-round receiver going into the league.”
I followed that up by asking Toure what his biggest strength that he would bring to an NFL team from day one is. Toure pointed to his route running, as well as his hands.
“I would say my greatest strength is probably my route running and my hands. I pride myself on being able to run good routes, smooth routes.”
Smooth is the perfect word to describe his game, as the eye test certainly backs up that Toure is a player who is going to look crisp getting in and out of his breaks. He has the short-area quickness that the 49ers covet, and by all means fits the mold of a receiver who would be sought after by Shanahan.
When I asked Toure about his thoughts about potentially playing in the Shanahan scheme in San Francisco, he had some high praise for the 49ers’ offense.
“I really like what they do on offense. They always put their receivers in good positions. They like to switch it up a lot and get their athletes in space, any receiver would love that.”
Toure and the 49ers would be a fantastic match. Toure has the short-area burst to pair with the route running chops and a reliable set of hands. At 6’1 195 pounds, Toure has a very similar build to Bourne, who was a player that developed into a key member of the 49ers offense.
Toure is a complete player with a skillset that has been proven to translate to the next level, a steal on day three that will make him a home run selection for whichever team ends up drafting him.
The 49ers are currently slated to pick six times on day three. We know based on their meeting with Toure this week that there is a palpable level of interest on their end. Using any of those picks from day three on Toure would be a fantastic value.
To conclude my interview with Toure, I asked if there was anything else that he wanted to touch on as he entered the home stretch of the pre-draft process.
“I just want people to know that I am ready to go. Any team that gets me, and takes a chance on me, isn’t going to regret it.”
I’m inclined to agree.