Brian Westerholt-USA TODAY Sports

Brian Westerholt-USA TODAY Sports

Film room: Receiver Deebo Samuel brings a blend of technique, strength, versatility to the 49ers offense

May 3, 2019 at 5:28 PM

Today we look at second round pick out of the University of South Carolina, wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

With their second round pick (36th overall), the 49ers selected wide receiver Tyshun "Deebo" Samuel out of the University of South Carolina. Samuel is an instant upgrade to a position group that lacks a talented route runner outside of Dante Pettis and a consistent and reliable threat over the middle of the field. Samuel has enough versatility for Shanahan's offense that his role should see him threaten every level of the field and as you'll see below, he excelled in each spot.

In some ways, the 49ers got the best possible receiver with their second pick but Samuel regularly showed up outside the top 5 but in the top of this receiver class, which was, by all accounts, a polarizing one. Samuel had 882 yards receiving on 62 receptions, and 11 touchdowns, scoring nearly 1-in-5 times he caught the ball.

According to Pro Football Focus, of his 882 receiving yards, 592 of them came after the catch. He also forced 21 missed tackles.

He didn't really pop off the charts in testing at the combine. His 4.48 40-yard dash was in the 64th percentile of the class and he hovered around the middle to the bottom of the pack in nearly everything else tested. He did, however, post a vertical leap of 39 inches, which put him in the 87th percentile of the class and that is a trait that definitely shows up on film.

He truly is a receiver who doesn't wow you with testing numbers and is a case of someone who you cannot fully appreciate unless you watch him on film. Of Samuel, head coach Kyle Shanahan stated,

"Deebo, to me, is a big receiver. Look at his body. Look how he runs the ball. It hurts for people to tackle him. It doesn't hurt him as bad. And when you have the hands like that and the speed. We're not playing basketball. We're not throwing alley-oops under the backboard and post people up and box them out. We want guys to separate to get the ball in their hands and run"

Where he wins

Separation vs press coverage

A recent criticism of Samuel that popped up after the draft is that he cannot win versus press coverage against NFL corners. The criticism comes from everyone's favorite draft analyst, the infamous "anonymous scout," who told Bob McGinn on Matt Maiocco's 49ers Insider podcast earlier this week that "the corners in this league are going to swallow him up outside. Has to be (a slot)." Of course these draft to NFL projections are silly and click-bait and designed to generate content more than meaningful discussion.

The truth is we have no idea how Samuel will pan out in the NFL but his college film is filled with examples of him separating against press coverage.

Samuel has an excellent understanding of press defender relationships in relation to the route he's running. Here against Vanderbilt, Samuel shows the nuance to be able to separate using the stem-technique to get vertical. His aim point is the middle of the defender, which keeps the defender square to him and keeps the defender from gaining leverage depending on the route Samuel takes. The defender becomes reactive vice proactive and can't dictate the receiver's path.

The head fake and jab step at the top of his stem before he gets vertical gets the defender to man-turn as Samuel separates and puts the defender on his hip. However, the pass is under-thrown to the end zone and allows the defender to recover. If there could be one adjustment Samuel makes here, it's that he should look to stack the defender immediately behind him once he clears his path. Still, the quarterback had the time to also put the pass further out to the corner of the end zone.

When Samuel has to work inside against press coverage, he also displays the same nuance in his release and understanding of the defender's movements based on his first initial step. Defenders rarely if ever got their hands on him as he released off the line of scrimmage too.

On this play, Samuel gets separation again by getting the defender to turn his hips outside before cutting back underneath on the slant. Having this kind of ability to separate is important to his overall success since he is not a receiver who will burn a defense with pure speed.

Yards after the catch

As I previously mentioned above, 592 of Samuel's 882 receiving yards came after the catch. He's a one-cut-and-go type of runner and doesn't waste any movement trying to dance around and make defenders miss. He doesn't slow down if contact is imminent and will often run through arm tackles and make other defenders miss.

Here Samuel is in the slot running a quick slant over the middle. Quarterback Jake Bentley immediately locks on to Samuel and the linebacker tracks this movement and looks to drop underneath the slant. The linebacker isn't quick enough to disrupt the pass but can still make a decent tackle or hit as Samuel approaches. However, Samuel keeps running at full speed and runs through the contact of the defender before being brought down.

Here he runs through the arm tackle of the linebacker again on the same quick slant over the middle. But this time he makes several more defenders miss their tackles after the catch en route to a 91 yard gain. He doesn't have the ability to reach a higher gear with his stride but he will at a minimum fight for that extra yardage like he does above.

Route running

Samuel is perhaps the best route runner in the class this year.

He can threaten deep when needed and that is going to be a plus for Shanahan in an offense that features deep play action shots. Having another receiver capable threatening the top of the defense with precision route running vice speed can open the range of possibilities Shanahan can deploy.

On this play, Samuel scores on a long touchdown pass against off coverage. He does this by threatening vertically with subtle outside lean toward the corner of the end zone. When the defender turns outside, Samuel cuts sharply to the post, flattens his route to get open, and catches the pass near the back pylon.

On this touchdown pass against Kentucky in 2017, Samuel, again working against press coverage, is running a post on the front side of this run-pass option (RPO). Instead of just releasing to the inside, Samuels' first step (indicated by his stance) is with his left foot. The subtle first step to the outside gets the defender to take his first step to the outside while Samuel then cuts vertically up the stem inside. In other words, the release gets the defender to make an extra movement.

As Samuel works up field, the defender has outside leverage and anticipates carrying the receiver vertical. But Samuel cuts inside on the post route over the middle, catches the pass and races to the end zone for the touchdown.

He is a crisp route runner, never wasting any movement with unnecessary steps, never rounding off his routes and uses an effective stem technique to keep defenders square to his initial release before cutting sharply on a dime.

Running a deeper post pattern from the inside slot position, Samuel releases up field, stemming the defender before breaking across his face. The defender stays square and tries to collision him as he runs past but Samuel never breaks stride, cuts sharply to the post, and keeps his speed up through the contact. The defender never recovers and Samuel scores on a long touchdown catch.

Samuel's Senior Bowl week likely confirmed to Shanahan that he was their guy if available after the first round.

He showed that he can run and win on a variety of routes during the drills portion of the week and during the game.

Red zone threat

Samuel's biggest contribution to the 49ers could come inside the red zone, where he did most of his damage at South Carolina. All of the traits above combine to give the 49ers an advantage at the goal line with now two red zone receiver targets (Pettis being the other).

While did see a lot of press coverage, he didn't see a lot of bump-and-run coverage in college with defenders instead electing to play to what's called "soft shoe" coverage where the defensive back will slow play the route and try to mirror what the receiver does. This was a big mistake.

Against Akron, the defender has taken away the in cut by playing with inside leverage and in that soft press technique mentioned above. It didn't matter.
Samuel used that leverage against the defender by attacking his outside shoulder and giving him a quick jab step and head fake outside to get the defender to commit. As soon as the defender widened with his stem, Samuel cut back underneath quickly and scored.

On this play, the defender is head-up over Samuel with no help over the top. The running back motions out to the right and pulls the defense with him. Samuel threatens the outside and gets the defender to man turn like he's going to run with him to the pylon but Samuel swipes through the contact and cuts underneath on the slant.

The linebacker's flow to the running back fake swing pass and the safety steps toward that as well, leaving a small window for Samuel to catch the pass and score.

Even when fully contacted at the line, Samuel still displayed great strength to fight through it.

The Clemson defense sent a seven-man pressure and the trips stack drew the bulk of the man coverage with the deep safety playing a wall technique on anything vertical from the stack. This left Samuel one-on-one with the corner. The corner initially jams Samuel and disrupts the timing of the route.

But Samuel fights through it anyways with his superior balance and strength and continues on the slant. Bentley throws a pass off his back foot directly to Samuel who scored one of his two touchdowns in this game.

Play strength/body control

What Samuel lacks in size and height, he makes up for with strength and balance at the catch point and can win contested catches.

On several of these throws, he shows that he can fight through contact, has good concentration in traffic, and displays the balance and body control needed to locate the sideline after the catch or maintain balance after snagging the pass out of the air while maintaining and never breaking his stride.


Samuel's versatility extends beyond being a viable red zone target or a receiver who can run any down field route. His usage in other aspects of the South Carolina offense actually hindered his production, but still showed his play strength in that he is a tough runner to bring down.

He also has special teams versatility, showing he can cover on punt teams or return kicks as well, with four total kick return touchdowns.

Areas of concern

There aren't many areas of concern with Samuel's skill set. He did have injury issues in college, leaving his junior year with a broken leg and having hamstring issues off and on. He played injury-free his senior year and was still considered a top five receiver heading into the draft.

On the field, he lacks the breakaway speed needed to outrun speedier defenders in the open field. He also did not do so well against physical bump and run coverage. There's no reason to expect that this would carry over consistently during the NFL season as he won't see bump and run coverage on every snap and not every team has the skilled defenders to be able to do that.


Shanahan got himself another versatile weapon that he can use all over the field. He should not be relegated to a strictly slot receiver role like some folks have pigeonholed him into. What he lacks in speed and size he makes up for with technique, strength, and balance. Deebo likely figures to be at a minimum the number two receiver behind Dante Pettis, maybe the number three, but those roles don't mean much in Shanahan's offense anyways. No matter where he ends up, he's going to help quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo at all levels of the field and make the offense more multidimensional.
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

  • mbniner
    Most people are trying to compare Debo with Garcon or Bolden, and there are similarities. But, to me, he most resembles Steve Smith who was a short, quick, physical, tough receiver who ran great routes and became one of the best WRs in the NFL. He had a long career as a go-to guy in the clutch. Will Debo approach his success? I don't know, but his physical and game abilities are apparent.
    May 6, 2019 at 2:19 PM
    Response: that's a good one. I tend to stay away from making those comparisons because they don't project success to me but if I had to pick I'd say him or Edelmann are the closest comps.

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