The San Francisco 49ers will have to go a little bit longer without one of their top weapons.
The NFL’s Ian Rapaport tweeted out Sunday that second-year wide receiver Deebo Samuel is being slowly reintegrated into the 49ers’ plans as he continues to recover from a jones fracture.
#49ers WR Deebo Samuel (foot) should return to practice this week for SF, source says, but the current plan is to ease him in off Injured Reserve. Samuel likely returns to the field on game-day on Oct. 11 vs. the #Dolphins, rather than next Sunday vs. the #Eagles.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 27, 2020
While having Samuel back for the game against a Philadelphia Eagles team that some expected to be dangerous in 2020 would be nice, Philly is also already 0-2 and could be in dire straits if they lose to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3.
As long as Deebo is healthy when he does hit the field, the difference between Samuel returning against the Eagles and Miami Dolphins doesn’t matter too much, the 49ers just need their receiver healthy and ready.
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Deebo’s Role in Shanahan’s Offense
The former South Carolina Gamecock was an instant charge of electricity into the San Francisco offense when he joined the 49ers in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Utilizing insane lateral quickness, Samuel’s big-play ability doesn’t come from breakaway speed, although the receiver offers that as well, but instead from his ability to make defenders miss and navigate tight spaces.
It’s a major reason why the team slowly incorporated him more and more into the running game with jet sweeps or just straight-up handoffs as head coach Kyle Shanahan’s grew more comfortable with mixing Deebo into the gameplan in a variety of ways.
Samuel’s absence hurts San Francisco in a different way than the absence of a player like George Kittle. Kittle can break games open from the tight-end position, but doesn’t quite offer dynamic play from a variety of areas like Deebo has.
It limits Shanahan’s options offensively when he doesn’t have a “jack knife” type player like Samuel, and the 49ers unfortunately don’t have any other receivers that can bring the same type of juice and versatility.
The sooner that Deebo gets back, the sooner Shanahan and the 49ers offense can open up the playbook a little bit more. Hopefully, that will come along the same time as a speedy recovery from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Brandon Aiyuk Getting Comfortable
Like Samuel, rookie Brandon Aiyuk has also been battling injury issues through the preseason and regular season, although not at the same severity as a jones fracture.
However, after being ruled out for Week 1, the 2020 NFL Draft first-rounder played a full game in Week 2, and didn’t look overwhelmed. He didn’t set the world alight with two receptions for 21 yards, but it’s a good sign that he’s getting reps when it counts.
Aiyuk becoming the receiver that the 49ers know he can be would be a massive help amid all of the injuries the offense has suffered, but San Francisco will also still have to wait for Deebo’s toolkit, as Aiyuk is a bit more of a classic receiver compared to his counterpart.
Either way, Sunday is a big chance for Aiyuk to continue stepping up and establishing himself as the team’s top receiver when Deebo is out.
Evan Reier is a sportswriter covering the San Francisco 49ers for Heavy.com and local sports for the Montana Standard in Butte, Mont. Reach out to him on Twitter at @evanreier and join our 49ers community at Heavy on 49ers on Facebook.