McDaniel explains Deebo's incredible evolution with 49ers


SANTA CLARA -- Deebo Samuel has always had the mindset of a running back, but his role as one with the 49ers didn’t emerge until this season.  

Before the 49ers drafted Samuel in 2019, offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel and the 49ers' staff met the South Carolina product at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and knew there was something special about the young receiver. They saw Samuel as a physical player that had the potential to be a playmaker, but his role as a hybrid receiver/running back has evolved over time.  

“That stuff kind of just comes organically,” McDaniel said. “You have to teach a receiver to be a receiver first and the more he’s comfortable in the offense, then you’re like, ‘hey, well, let’s try doing this.’ And then he’s comfortable with that. It’s a chore just for a receiver to learn how to align in the backfield. 

“Receivers don’t know what the B-gap is. So to tell them to align there, it can be a lot on someone’s plate. Every single time he’s in the backfield or every single time we’re using him in different ways, that is something he has to learn and own.”

After a strong rookie season, Samuel dealt with injuries during his second year, keeping him off the field for nine games. The 25-year old made it a goal to come into camp healthier and stronger this season, and it has paid off in dividends.


Through 11 in games in 2021, Samuel has caught 56 of his 92 targets for 1,006 yards and five touchdowns, for an average of 18 yards per reception. 

Samuel has also registered 25 carries for 203 yards and five touchdowns, giving him an average of 8.1 yards per carry. Opposing teams have had a difficult time defending the versatile receiver, and Kyle Shanahan and McDaniel have taken advantage of how they can line Samuel up in the backfield

“One game in particular,” McDaniel said. “There was a team that played a lot of man coverage, so that was a reason to have him in the backfield to see how they align. But also, Deebo has been making a ton of plays with the ball in his hands, so defenses are aware of that. 

“When you do have success at anything, it allows you to anticipate some overplay for things because they better defend it and that opens up other things.”

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McDaniel also emphasized that the combination of running the ball and Samuel's toughness getting through the first level minimizes the offense's risk that is involved with the passing game. After they saw how productive and comfortable their top receiver was in the role, they have kept adding more options to his plate. 

The 49ers will likely be without Samuel on the field this Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, and will have to compensate with Brandon Aiyuk, Elijah Mitchell and George Kittle as the key playmakers.

With Samuel’s injury being less serious than originally thought, the 49ers hope to have him back in the lineup for their trip to Cincinnati in Week 14.

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