Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports


How Deebo Samuel’s Injury Affects the 49ers Offense

Matt Andruscavage
Jun 18, 2020 at 9:09 PM


Despite there being no preseason football at the moment, NFL teams are not immune to the injury bug. Second-year wideout Deebo Samuel suffered a foot fracture during a throwing session on June 18th. The initial timetable for his return is 12-16 weeks, however, Samuel believes he will be back in 10 weeks in time for the regular season to start.

For starters, this injury can't be shrugged off as no big deal. It is a big deal. Deebo Samuel came into his own during the second half of the 2019 season, shortly after Emmanuel Sanders was signed. He was probably the biggest contributor in the passing game down the stretch and in the playoffs, while consistently gaining large chunks of yardage on end-arounds. He will be needed in order to fill the void left in the wake of Sanders signing with New Orleans.

The Most Important Thing


Samuel's surgery was a success, according to the doctors. The most important thing at this point is that the surgery "takes" and he heals normally. Trent Taylor had a similar break last year, but the surgery didn't take.

If the break heals as it should, Samuel could be back for the season opener or sometime shortly thereafter with the worst case scenario being placed on the NFI/PUP list and returning Week 7.

Obviously, the worst case overall would be multiple surgeries and Samuel missing the 2020 season altogether. As long as that does not happen, San Francisco can not only overcome Samuel's absence, but also develop one or two more crucial offensive weapons.

I'm going to go with a successful surgery and recovery. What will that mean for the offense?

1) Be VERY Cautious


The 49ers should not rush Deebo Samuel back into the lineup. Besides tight end George Kittle, there are several young receivers who can step in and make an impact.

If Samuel can return Week 1 at full strength, so be it. If there is any doubt at all, allow him to return Week 2 or 3, or place him on the NFI/PUP and allow him to return fully healthy in October. He needs to be available for the second half of the season and the playoffs, should all go well.

2) Who Steps Up in Deebo's Absence?


The main thing to keep in mind is that George Kittle is the number one receiver (WR1 essentially) in the offense right now. At receiver, the most experienced players at this point are Kendrick Bourne and Dante Pettis. In the mix will be first round pick Brandon Aiyuk, the returning Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd, Richie James Jr, and 7th round pick Jauan Jennings.

Ideally, Aiyuk steps into Samuel's role in the passing game. Taylor and Bourne will work in the slot, with Bourne competing potentially for work on the outside with Dante Pettis and Jalen Hurd.

If Pettis takes advantage of this opportunity and becomes what the team envisioned when he was drafted in the second round, the passing attack may put up similar production to last season.

Expect Hurd and possibly Richie James Jr to get increased opportunities as well as be involved in gadget plays and Samuel's end-arounds.

The big "ifs" will be the development of Brandon Aiyuk and a Dante Pettis redemption story. If one or both happen, the passing attack will be just fine.

On a sidenote, if Pettis makes his way out of the Shanahan doghouse, there could be a very good chance the 49ers add all seven of these contenders to the 53 man roster and put Samuel on the NFI/PUP as a precaution and also for an opportunity to develop all of them. The issue will then be releasing somebody to make room for Samuel when he returns, but it buys the team time.

3) Don't Underestimate Trent Taylor's Impact


If you watched the end of the 2017 season, Taylor's ability as a dependable slot receiver was on display. Though he did not put up gaudy fantasy football numbers, he consistently moved the chains as he caught 27 passes on third down, converted first downs on 18 of them and scored twice. Trent Taylor is exactly what this passing attack needs, especially on third down.

If Trent Taylor not only returns to form, but takes the leap forward that coaches expected him to take last year, the 49ers will have a deadly passing offense. Kittle attracts so much attention, we already know what Samuel can do, Bourne is dependable, and there are many possibilities with the other young receivers, especially Aiyuk.

4) The Downside


While there is every reason to be optimistic about the growth of Jimmy Garoppolo, the rushing attack, and all of the youth at receiver, the truth is, there are a lot of "ifs". IF Brandon Aiyuk is the real deal, if Taylor and Hurd are healthy, and if Samuel comes back the same, the offense can be great.

If not, the offense could take a step or two backwards and look a bit like it did at times in 2018 and early 2019.

The injury bug must be avoided and a few of these young players will need to immerge for the offense to be successful. The odds are, the offense will be just fine for the first half of the season and could score nearly 30 points per game like it did last season by the second half of 2020. Only time will tell.

5) The Bottom Line


As long as Samuel recovers from the surgery and is largely his old self or better by midseason, there probably isn't a major cause for concern. We will just have to watch this all unfold and trust the front office and coaching staff.

The best news? We've been here before in the uncertainty department, but now it's a lot easier to see and expect success after last season. There's every reason to believe in Coach Shanahan and Jimmy Garoppolo. Let's see what these young guys can do.
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.


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