SANTA CLARA -- San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel has made the expected number of rookie mistakes.
But he also has turned into one of the most reliable members of Kyle Shanahan’s passing game, and a player the 49ers have a difficult time taking off the field.
“I have been extremely impressed with Deebo this year,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Just the fact that I think he’s had to play a lot more than expected as a rookie. For him to play with a physicality he has and just to play like a man throughout the year, whether he’s been hurt or not, has been very impressive.
“He still has his rookie moments. He’s playing a lot longer than he’s used to.”
Samuel ranks third in the NFL among rookie receivers with 48 receptions. His 669 receiving yards rank fifth. He and A.J. Brown of the Tennessee Titans are the only rookies averaging more than 8 yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus.
Samuel already has played two more games than he did in any of his four seasons at South Carolina before the 49ers selected him in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. And the most important games of the season are still to come.
“It’s very challenging for rookies and that’s why we’ll never stop riding him because he’s not close to arrived, yet,” Shanahan said. “He’s got a lot longer to go, but he’s earned a lot of respect on this team for how tough he’s been out there.”
Samuel’s toughness and willingness to run patterns over the middle enabled him to surpass second-year player Dante Pettis on the 49ers’ depth chart. Samuel and veteran Emmanuel Sanders are playing the majority of the snaps for the 49ers’ offense.
Kendrick Bourne is mixing into the action as the No. 3 wide receiver on a team that rarely utilizes the other wideouts, Pettis and Richie James.
Samuel is continuing to learn what it takes to be a productive and reliable NFL wide receiver.
“It’s very rare when rookie receivers come in the league, that they’re polished in all the stuff they do,” Shanahan said.
“A lot of guys it takes a couple years. They have the ability to run good routes, but they get away with being a little bit sloppy in college and it doesn’t matter. Then they get to the NFL and they’ve got to learn the hard way.”