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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Did the 49ers Draft a Running Back to Make Deebo Samuel Happy?

Apr 30, 2022 at 8:45 AM--

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Here's an incomplete list of the 49ers' needs going into the 2022 NFL Draft, in which San Francisco did not have a first-round selection:

  • Left Guard
  • Center
  • Strong Safety
  • Slot Cornerback

Here's who the 49ers selected with the 61st, 93rd, and 105th picks:

In other words...not exactly what the holes the 49ers probably should have been looking to fill. But there may be a method to this apparent madness, especially when you consider the final domino that didn't fall: Deebo Samuel.

Deebo's contract dispute has been well-covered, and perhaps the biggest drama of the draft for the 49ers was that they never found a trade partner to offload the talented "wide back." Given that general manager John Lynch said before the draft, "I can't ever imagine wanting to move on from Deebo," this should be considered a win for the front office. But the hard part is yet to come, as a potential holdout from Samuel's side looms. With Samuel's presence not guaranteed, the 49ers would have to draft a replacement for Samuel, right? Ideally, someone who could match his physicality and yards-after-reception prowess?

Nope. In the second round, they selected EDGE rusher Drake Jackson, continuing their tendency to select defensive linemen with their top picks.

So did they spot someone with Samuel's qualities that fell to the third round? After all, WR Treylon Burks had been compared often to Deebo Samuel pre-draft, but he'd been taken in the first round by the Tennessee Titans. As it turns out, that wasn't the plan, either. They took a two-down running back and a speedy but small wide receiver (Danny Gray weighed in at 186 pounds) in the third round. So what gives?

The key to these mystifying selections may lie in Deebo Samuel's primary gripe with his usage under coach Kyle Shanahan. The physical toll he takes by performing both wide receiver and running back duties is likely to shorten his career, not to mention that the lower contract values for NFL running backs dilute his positional worth even as he provides more and more value to the team. For Deebo's side of the equation, playing for a team that makes him do more to get paid less hardly makes sense.

And perhaps John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan see this. Samuel was, in effect, the 49ers' offense late in the season, as unstoppable as Cooper Kupp or Davante Adams. And if they think retaining Samuel is their best chance towards making another championship run, then the most important thing they can do is put him in the environment he wants.

The first step towards that is making sure that he doesn't have to step in as a high-usage running back again by fortifying the position with a sturdy draft pick. Davis-Price, as mentioned by 49ers beat reporter Matt Barrows, is noted for performing better as games go on. Davis-Price has also already talked up the importance of pass protection in his post-draft interviews, and a pass-blocking running back should free up more room for Deebo, Kittle, and the other playmakers to go to work.

The second step is filling out a sparse WR room by adding a speed-oriented receiver who can expand the field for Deebo to go to work without threatening to gobble up his targets. Gray ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash and has been noted for his ability to translate that speed onto the gridiron. With Gray available to run the deep routes and fly motions that Samuel was asked to perform constantly last year, Samuel gets someone to take defenses out of his way and open up tons of schematic advantages in Shanahan's system. Had Lynch attempted to replace Deebo wholesale, the mood could have quickly gone sour. Instead, the 49ers' front office just gave him the best situation he could have asked for.

In essence, the third round for the 49ers may well have been the opening salvo of a new round of negotiations between them and their star wide receiver. "You don't want to take a running back's punishment, so we spent premium draft capital to ensure there are enough running backs to handle the load. We also spent premium draft capital to help open up the field for you to do your thing for the foreseeable future" is a pretty convincing argument for bringing a disgruntled player back into the fold. Now all that's left is to wait and see if that's enough to keep the band together, or if it backfires harder than the Reuben Foster pick.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.

1 Comment

  • John
    Good. I don't like teams drafting for need unless it's a QB. Take the BPA. Especially this draft which seems to be light on talent. I really like player X but we need a S. The only problem is player X is better than any available S. Makes no sense.
    Apr 30, 2022 at 10:11 AM

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