Deebo Samuel, a wide receiver for the San Francisco 49ers, Samuel has gotten a lot of his 490 yards on huge plays this season. Take a deeper look at two catches that gained just 28 yards in a game the Niners didn’t even win to properly understand why Samuel is the league’s surprise receiving leader through four weeks.
How Deebo Samuel the 49ers’ leading receiver evolved into more than a gadget man
Samuel made the first of those two catches with 8:39 left in the third quarter of San Francisco’s 30-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium on Sept. 26, scooping up 16 yards on third-and-9 at Green Bay’s 9. On third-and-10 at the Packers’ 24, the second went for 12 yards. Both receptions resulted in scores for the Niners. Those catches were not only crucial for the squad, but they were also a type of on-field validation for Samuel. Why? Because they were running “swirl” routes, which are sometimes known as “corner curls,” in which the receiver appears to be going to the corner but really curls back towards the line of scrimmage. Since his arrival as a second-round pick in 2018, Samuel has tried to improve his routes. Samuel spent the offseason training tirelessly to progress from versatile gadget player to all-around athlete capable of destroying defences in every way possible, since it is a staple of coach Kyle Shanahan’s scheme. Samuel was wide open when he caught the 16-yarder, but he had to climb the ladder to bring it in.
On the other hand, Packers CB Jaire Alexander was draped all over him on the other reception, possibly remembering the route from the prior hookup. On the play, amuel, who was quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s fourth read, abbreviated the route. “We call that play virtually every day at practise,” Samuel added, “and that route is never thrown.” “It just happened to show up…. That’s undoubtedly one of the most difficult routes to complete. It’s not something I enjoy doing, but it’s part of the game plan.” He is first in yards after the catch (266) and fifth in yards per reception in the NFL, in addition to leading the league in receiving yards (17.5). Those 490 receiving yards are the second-highest in 49ers franchise history through four games, trailing only Jerry Rice’s 522 in 1995, and the most by any wideout in the NFL since Julio Jones in 2018. Samuel gets a couple of huge touchdown catches (79 and 76 yards) to help him get off to a fast start. “It’s a very exciting thing to watch because Deebo’s a player that, if you show him precisely what you want, he’ll do everything it takes to develop,” offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said. “And as a coach, it’s your job to best communicate that through film in order to show him how he can improve. I know he aspires to greatness. The best part about him is that he is never content.
He’s been able to significantly increase the size of his route tree… We’ve been able to bring him to the ball in new ways because of him.” Samuel’s game has grown in size by no means by chance. It’s actually been two years in the making. Samuel was challenged by Welker to train in a way that would exhaust him and then allow him to keep going, so augmenting his wind. Samuel embraced the challenge and spent the offseason in Weston, Florida, at House of Athlete, a facility run by former NFL receiver Brandon Marshall. The five-day-a-week workout would begin with some early morning track running, followed by weightlifting and another run. Samuel also practised hot yoga twice a week. Samuel would go to Receiver Factory in South Florida for on-field work, where he would practise alongside players like Stefon Diggs, Jarvis Landry, Justin Jefferson, Emmanuel Sanders, and others. “It was simply trying all I could to get back in shape and be the greatest version of myself I could,” Samuel explained. Samuel was noticeably more fluid in and out of breaks when he returned to the Bay Area, especially on deeper runs. Samuel used to be limited to short passes, handoffs, and intermediate, in-breaking routes, but now he’s running the entire route tree. He’s been targeted 42 times, which is tied for fourth in the NFL, and his 33.3 percent target share on routes run ranks fourth among receivers who have run more than 25 routes.
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