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Why missing Deebo Samuel would be a big deal for the 49ers

The 49ers wideout didn’t practice on Wednesday due to a concerning shoulder injury. He did on Thursday, but there’s still no guarantee that Samuel will play or be 100%.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The San Francisco 49ers are set to face off against the Detroit Lions in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, and they could be without one of their top players, as wide receiver Deebo Samuel missed the first practice of the week with a shoulder injury.

With an issue similar to Samuel’s early-season shoulder injury, except for the fracture, the 49ers have yet to provide an update on the wideout’s current status, leading him to potentially be a game-time decision depending on his recovery on Thursday.

Now, the 49ers aren’t devoid of elite pass-catching talent; they have All-Pros Brandon Aiyuk, Christian McCaffrey. and George Kittle.

But Samuel does provide a different element, offensively allowing for more versatility and mismatches across the board.

One key example of Samuel’s importance came in last weekend’s game between the 49ers and the Packers, where the latter beat the former by three points.

San Francisco had a chance to take an even bigger lead earlier in the game, but Brock Purdy misfired on a miscommunication with Ray-Ray McCloud, and emotions were clearly high after the play.

Purdy, disappointed by that result, wasn’t fully happy after the game, and that sparked some of his teammates, such as tight end George Kittle.

How did Purdy and McCloud misconnect in the shot play?

“I’m just going through my progressions, you know,” Purdy said to reporters. “And from where I’m at, with the pocket closing and stuff, I’m expecting him to be where he’s supposed to be with the route that we had called on.”

However, following the game, Purdy acknowledged McCloud’s point of view of finding the open space with the busted play, but there were still heat-of-the-moment displeasures with the incomplete pass.

“The [Packers] corner actually slipped that was guarding him, so he was trying to be smart and throw up his hand and run to space, which I get.”

Had Samuel been there, the trust level between Purdy and his receiver would’ve likely been different, potentially leading to a bigger play.

Especially in the playoffs, it’s hard to trust role players, as minutes can be streaky, while the layoff can be pretty significant.

Now, Samuel impacts the game in several ways, serving as a Swiss Army knife alongside Christian McCaffrey, adding a layer to their offense.

He would allow Brock Purdy to have a reliable safety blanket, as well as the ability for yards after the catch and intermediate passes, which haven’t seen as high volume as defenses are adjusting by playing their linebackers deeper into zones.

Earlier in the season, the 49ers did lose three straight games, but they came at the expense of missing both Samuel and Trent Williams, who is arguably the team’s most important player, while the wideout’s prospects are looking better than the symptoms of his last injury.

Can the 49ers win this game without Deebo Samuel? Yes, but the nature of the playoffs comes down to physicality and areas as such, which the Lions are focusing on before heading off on the road.