Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports

49ers-Jaguars: Deebo Samuel credits this player for his leap as a receiver, expects to play Sunday

Nov 18, 2021 at 5:02 PM--

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel is dealing with a shin contusion and has been limited during practice this week. That probably won't keep him out of Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, though.

"I'll be ready for Sunday," Samuel said after practice. "We're just taking our time. Just had a shin contusion, so just taking it slow, but we'll be ready."

That's good news for the Niners. Samuel is the team's leading receiver, and his 979 receiving yards rank second among all NFL receivers this season. After struggling through injuries last season, the wideout has made a significant leap in his third year. Many, including Samuel, credit one player's influence for that leap as an offensive weapon.

Samuel doesn't typically give long answers while speaking with reporters. However, he had a lot to say about his former teammate, Emmanuel Sanders, with whom he still keep in contact.

"[I talk to him] every week," Samuel said. "Once a week. I actually talked to him after the game [against the Rams], and he was just excited. He was like, 'Hey, man, you're becoming the guy that I know you was going to be,' and just congratulated me.

"And we just go back and forth, not just talking about football, just like life, and linking up in the offseason, taking trips, just like regular conversations."

Sanders was only with the 49ers for the second half of their 2019 campaign. Obviously, he made a substantial impact on the then-rookie. What exactly was it about Sanders that influenced Samuel?

"For me, it was just like his work ethic," Samuel shared. "Just coming into meetings, he came in at 6:30 [a.m.] when you're supposed to be here at like 7:30 [a.m.], just getting ahead of the playbook, and the way he carried himself at practice, and just the leader he was, and the energy that he [brought.

"As you can see, as the year went on, he started to act like us as far as dancing, which made it kind of fun. So, it was great playing with him that year."

Even Samuel's teammates noticed the influence Sanders had on Samuel, who looks on pace for his first Pro Bowl selection.

"I think one of the best things for our wide receiver room was Emmanuel Sanders," tight end George Kittle told reporters. "I can't say enough great things about Emmanuel, just the mindset he brought every single day of working. He never got tired. He never took himself out of the game. He would block his tail off every single time.

"That mindset he brought, I think Deebo learned a lot from him. I learned a lot from him. And I think if you didn't learn from him, then you had your head under a rock because he's a hell of a football player who does everything right.

"And so, I think that helped a lot. I think Deebo was dealing with some injuries last year. When you deal with injuries, it's hard just to get in a rhythm. It's hard to get in that mindset all the time. I think Deebo had a great offseason and came back looking great in camp. I think he's just been able to stay on the field repeatedly and just get better."

Some criticized the 49ers for trading for Sanders and then letting him leave in free agency just months later. However, his impact on the younger players, like Samuel, has been evident, even though his time as a Niner was short-lived.

Earlier this week, head coach Kyle Shanahan spoke of Sanders' influence.

"Yeah, I think it helped a ton for him when Emmanuel came here," Shanahan said. "That's when I saw the biggest [leap]. 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. 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."

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