Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Packers praise 49ers WR Deebo Samuel: ‘One of the more elite players in this league’

Jan 18, 2022 at 7:11 PM--

There's something significantly different about San Francisco 49ers on offense this week compared to where they were when they played the Green Bay Packers in Week 3 of the regular season.

That difference is the role of wide receiver Deebo Samuel, whose emergence as a running back throughout the course of the season makes the 49ers more difficult to stop than they were when they fell 30-28 to the Packers at Levi's Stadium on September 26.

Samuel had two carries for zero yards in that game, giving him a total of four carries for eight yards over his first three games. He had six total carries over his first nine games before exploding over the second half of the season to finish with 59 carries for 365 yards and eight touchdowns to go with his receiving stats of 77 catches for 1,405 yards and six touchdowns. Samuel then had career highs in carries (10) and rushing yards (72) to go with one touchdown in the 49ers' 23-17 Wild Card win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Based on what he's done over the past several weeks, there's no doubt Samuel will factor in heavily to what the 49ers do on offense in Saturday night's Divisional Playoff showdown at Lambeau Field against the Packers (8:15 p.m. ET/5:15 p.m. PT, FOX).

"It definitely adds another layer to their complex offense," Packers head coach Matt LaFleur told reporters on Tuesday.

Samuel's presence as a runner adds multiple issues for opposing defenses, who at first have to deal with the uncertainty of how the 49ers will use him on any given play. Then, if Samuel gets the ball, defenses have to stop him from making a big gain, which isn't an easy task either considering his ability to get extra yardage once he gets the ball in his hands. The Packers will get their chance to figure Samuel out on Saturday after primarily only having to deal with him as a receiver in Week 3.

"He's one of the more elite players in this league," LaFleur said. "They just try to find different ways to get him the ball, whether it's handing it off, whether it's reverses in the passing game. He's a physical guy, and I think it does present some problems when you just aren't quite sure where he's going to line up. Is he going to be in the halfback position? Are the halfbacks going to be out wide or vice versa?"

Samuel's breakout season earned him first-team All-Pro honors, as well as the respect of the top players around the league. One of those players is Packers receiver Davante Adams, who compares Samuel's ability to see the field as a runner to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.

"He's dynamic. He's a hell of a wideout," Adams told reporters Tuesday. "He's basically a punt returner as soon as he gets the ball in his hands. He's special to watch because you don't really see guys be able to maximize their YAC the way that he does. It's something that I told y'all early in the season—I was watching some Lamar Jackson trying to see if I could see in slo-mo what he's seeing in fast motion. That's kind of the same thing with what Deebo does. He gets the ball and gets right upfield. They put him in some great positions to make plays. So he's a dynamic player. He's fun to watch."

But even though Adams admires what Samuel is doing as a runner, don't expect him to try to do the same thing himself.

"No, not for me. Never me," Adams said. "I think it's cool for him. It's good for his body type. He's got amazing vision. He's built more like that, kind of like a hybrid in-between back and wideout. So it works well for him, and not that I couldn't do it, but I'm a receiver, and we'll stick to that. Running the ball, I don't see that. I don't know if I have a rush in my career. But we'll see. I told Matt, give me a dive at the one-yard line and I can get over the top, maybe get over everybody. But some of those dudes are a little stocky in the middle. I think Deebo's built body-wise a little bit more for that."

Packers running back Aaron Jones is also impressed with Samuel, as well as the plays the 49ers come up with to put the ball in his hands.

"He's versatile out of the backfield," Jones said. "You line him up in the backfield. He can take it to the house when you hand it off to him, but he can also be used as a receiver out of the backfield, which is a mismatch on most linebackers. That's another way to get him a mismatch. I feel like they do a good job of finding ways to get him the ball."

The 49ers have a number of different weapons the Packers will need to account for Saturday, including wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who emerged over the course of the season after a slow start; rookie running back Elijah Mitchell, who missed the Week 3 game due to injury; and tight end George Kittle, who had seven catches in Week 3 for 72 yards. But there won't be another player who concerns them more than Samuel, who has 11 total rushing and receiving touchdowns (and one passing touchdown) over the past nine games.

"He's a guy that we certainly need to account for on every play," LaFleur said.

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