Full disclosure, I’ve wanted to write about Deebo Samuel for weeks, but can’t force the issue in this game. There may not even be a payoff to this acquisition now, but that’s an issue to address this weekend. For now, the 6’0 215 pound bulldog showed his breakout potential on prime time Monday night. The 49ers lost Emmanuel Sanders in the first half and Samuel took advantage of his opportunity to the tune of eight catches (11 targets) for 112 yards.
He teased early in the season (11 catches, 147 yards, and a touchdown in his first three games) but hit a rough patch then added an injury and lost a shot at the top of the wide receiver rotation to Sanders. It’s to be determined if he will actually get a shot at sustaining a workload in that range, but if he does, expect this tough guy to take advantage. He has limitations in his game, but his weaknesses are the types that Head Coach Kyle Shanahan has proven capable of masking. One criticism of him as a prospect was his ability to separate, but there may not be a coach in the game better at scheming players open via motion and formation than Shanahan. Once with the ball in hand he plays more like a running back than receiver, only with opposition like smaller defensive backs and not what a running back will run into near the line. He also possesses a key trait for someone that lacks the ability to create space – sticky hands in contested coverage. His breaks in and out of his routes are tight and this body control is on display when the catch dictates as well. Then once in the open field, he has the speed to break away from most defenders. There’s a lot to work with here and with a coach skilled in working around his weaknesses, there’s reason to believe he can be successful.
While there is no official word on Sanders at this point take note of the circumstances – he suffered a rib injury, tried to play through it, wasn’t successful, and was ruled out shortly after halftime. Given the importance of that game and it being tightly contested, there is at least some likelihood this injury is significant. Is that significance the type that Sanders can play through at less than 100% this week? Maybe. Next week? Maybe. Sometime in December? Absolutely. In the meantime, however long that is, will be Samuel’s chance to earn a bigger piece of the pie in this offense. To this point he’s been stunted by himself, Sanders, and the 49ers constantly playing from ahead. Sanders’ status is unknown and the team has no incentive to provide a tangible update before the weekend, but should the door open, the schedule lends this to potentially being sustainable.
Until Monday night’s loss the 49ers had not played a single team that would be in the playoffs if they were to start today. The schedule has also been littered with teams that were between average and poor against the run. Four of their final seven games come against likely playoff teams and only one against a poor run defense (Green Bay) while it’s full of matchups that are more favorable to the pass game – Tampa Bay, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Baltimore. Even considering the high likelihood that Sanders returns relatively soon there is a window of opportunity for Samuel to take advantage of to get him more involved upon the veteran’s return. The 49ers attempted less than 30 passes four times in games won by more than one score and with the schedule tightening up, they won’t be afforded that luxury in their upcoming games. This rookie is primed to take advantage.
This week’s Flavor of the Week is: Steak. Deebo Samuel got his nickname from a bad character from the 1990’s movie, Friday. In that movie, Deebo was the enforcer of the neighborhood. Samuel earned that nickname from the way he plays, like an angry dog. What he lacks in finesse he makes up for in physicality. And nothing gets a hungry dog more riled up than baiting him with a tender, succulent steak.