Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

49ers happy with how Deebo Samuel has handled extra hits from being a running back

Jan 27, 2022 at 7:33 PM--

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel has been a tremendous success for the 49ers in an occasional running back role, but with more carries continuing to come his way, it's easy to wonder about what kind of long-term impact that role could take on Samuel's body.

Samuel certainly isn't getting the type of workload one would normally see from a running back (73 carries over the past 10 games, with 20 of those coming the past two weeks), but given the limited shelf life of the average player at the position, there's always at least some concern over the idea of putting the star receiver through too much physical punishment. Samuel is a unique player, however, and it sounds like the 49ers are confident he's built to take on the extra workload.

"It's something that you talk about before you do, you talk about it during it and always talk about it, but yeah, the more you get hit, of course, the more it's a sacrifice," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday. "And the more handoffs we give him, the more passes he catches, he's going to take some hits, but Deebo's handled it well. He's one of the main reasons we're here and I think it's one of the things that's given him the opportunity to be one of the best players in the NFL. So the more you do that, the more risks there is, but I think our team and Deebo are very happy how far he's taken us here so far."

At a thick 6-0 and 215 pounds, Samuel has a more imposing presence than most receivers. He's used his physicality to his advantage throughout his career, which made it natural for the 49ers to believe he'd have no problem dealing with the occasional handoff.

"I think the biggest thing with Deebo with the screens is that's what we saw in college," Shanahan said Thursday. "It was abnormal how physical he was, even when there was nowhere to go. Guys run hard, but when he had nowhere to go, he looked for someone to impose his will on before he finished everything. And that's a guy who's not doing it just because he was asked, that's a guy doing it because he's probably been doing it since he was five when his dad gave him the nickname Deebo watching him doing it in the backyard against everybody. So that's just who he is. And it's a lot easier to just hand it to him than throw him screens. And then once we've started doing that to him, the vision that he's shown, the natural vision, has kind of opened our playbook up for us and allowed us to do some runs that receivers normally don't do."

What the 49ers are doing with Samuel is unusual, so they still seem to be feeling things out when it comes to how much they want to push his workload. But Samuel hasn't had a problem with the idea of taking extra hits and has also been doing his share of making defenders miss when he gets the ball.

"To be honest, Deebo just wants to ball," 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said Thursday. "And he views himself as a leader of the team and he is a competitive guy that really wants to win and he thinks that he can help the team win every time he touches it. I think that one of the things that makes him great is how he's fearless, but he doesn't take huge hits all the time. I think that yes, running backs do take shots, but football players, if they play the right way, can take hits in a certain way that doesn't hurt them. I think he's built for it.

"And if you would've asked us before we had got to this point with Deebo Samuel, would it be smart to give a receiver you know, 8, 9, 10 carries a game like we have the last couple weeks? Yeah, you'd probably get some resistance, but this is a different player. He's not a receiver. He's a football player at the receiver position who also can play running back and we treat him as such and he would have it no other way."

Hearing the 49ers talk about Samuel makes one wonder if maybe defensive players should worry about getting hurt when he carries the football and not the other way around. Samuel will certainly take his share of hits as long as the 49ers continue to use him the way they have, but he's also going to dish out his share of punishment along the way.

"Usually receivers are prima donna guys who don't want much contact," defensive end Nick Bosa said Thursday. "But I think the whole receiver group here in general and Wes Welker as a coach and Kyle, they don't bring in guys who have that mentality. They bring in guys who want to block and earn the right to go catch balls. And obviously Deebo is just a savage football player. There's nothing more to it—he's a beast."

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