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49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo believes Deebo Samuel made leap as a leader ‘sometime in training camp’

Rohan Chakravarthi
Nov 17, 2021 at 7:01 PM--

49ers receiver Deebo Samuel has made quite the stride in his third NFL season, as he's already caught 54 passes for 979 yards and seven total touchdowns through just nine games.

Last year, Samuel had a mild sophomore season after an impressive rookie year due to a variety of hamstring injuries and a foot fracture, limiting the receiver to just seven games last season, in which he accumulated 33 receptions for 391 yards after a 57-catch, 802-yard rookie campaign.

Deebo's rapport with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been made evident this year, best encapsulated by a specific play on Monday Night against the Rams in which the veteran quarterback trusted his receiver to make a play even before Samuel was open.

As the solidified No.1 option in San Francisco, Samuel has now established himself as a premier wideout in the NFL, especially after winning the NFC Offensive Player of Week award twice this season.

When asked about his top option, Garoppolo stated how the 25-year old receiver started developing as a leader during training camp, despite not being a main vocal feature previously in the locker room.

"[Deebo made the leap as a leader and player] sometime in training camp," Garoppolo said. "I can't remember a specific day but in training camp, there was sort of a lull in our receiving room of just who the leader is, and we didn't really have a vocal leader. And I can remember Deebo ... Deebo's not the most vocal guy in the world, but he leads by example. In one-on-ones, he would always go first. He would step up first to kind of set the tone for everybody, make big plays, get guys excited."

Through his play on the field, Garoppolo felt that Samuel opened another avenue for himself, not as a player, but rather as a leader in the locker room, despite being only 25 and in his third NFL season.

"And that's when he really started to -- I mean, he's always been phenomenal, don't get me wrong -- but that's when he started to open up and really become a leader of that room," the quarterback said.

As for the trust he has in Samuel on the field, Garoppolo attributes that to the countless reps that the duo have had together over the course of the last three seasons.

"I think that just comes from the reps and being with someone," Garoppolo continued. "I mean, Deebo and I have played a lot of football together. There was a couple of broken plays in that game where we made eye contact, and I was like, 'Go that way.' And he did it. It was just being on the same page with one another, I think. And he did a good job with that stuff."

Head Coach Kyle Shanahan also praised his young star receiver, pointing out Samuel's intelligence and awareness, both on and off the football field.

"Deebo is one of the most natural players I've been around," Shanahan said. "He's very smart. He's very perceptive. I think he's extremely socially aware. He kind of has an idea of how everyone is and things aren't that hard to him. I think what Deebo has gotten better at is sometimes when you have a tendency for things not to be hard, you don't always go through every single little thing. And I think he's done a much better job of going through the little things, so he can be closer to perfect than not."

Shanahan also indicated the positive impact that former 49ers receiver Emmanuel Sanders had on Samuel in terms of work ethic and how to approach the field as a pro.

"Yeah, I think it helped a ton for him when [Buffalo Bills WR] Emmanuel [Sanders] came here," Shanahan shared. "That's when I saw the biggest. Deebo is one of the guys who we were counting on a lot as a rookie. And I think when Emmanuel got here, he really saw a true pro and not just how he prepared, but how he attacked practice every day. And Emmanuel only knew one way, like he went as hard as he could all the time and if he couldn't, you had to protect him from himself. And I think it was really cool for Deebo to get to see. I think that's why they clicked so much.

"And then coming back into a second year, I know how hard he was preparing to not have a sophomore slump. And then he had those injuries, which kind of made it inevitable. And to watch the frustration he had all year, you could tell he was very hungry coming into this year."

Samuel will have yet another opportunity to display his excellence on the football field when the 49ers take on the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday in Florida, where he'll face off against a familiar face in former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Shaquill Griffin.

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