For the second time this season, San Francisco 49ers WR Deebo Samuel earned the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award, this time due to his versatile assault on the Los Angeles Rams during the Niners’ impressive 31-10 Week 10 victory over their division rival.
The NFL tweeted the recognition on Wednesday, November 17.
Samuel caught all five of his targets for 97 yards on Monday Night Football, including a game-sealing 40-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. He also carried the ball five times for 36 yards and an 8-yard score. His smash-mouth yards as a tailback set the tone early that San Francisco was playing to save its season.
Samuel earned the honor earlier this season after the team’s Week 8 win against the Chicago Bears. He now joins Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as the only 49ers wideouts to receive the award more than once in a single season. Rice did it in 1990, 1992 and 1994, per NBC Sports Bay Area. Samuel is the first 49ers player to take home the honor twice in one season since Frank Gore accomplished the feat in 2009.
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2019 Trade Addition Emmanuel Sanders Showed Samuel How to Improve
But Samuel didn’t enter the league this outstanding.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked Wednesday during a media conference to what he attributed Samuel’s growth as a player. His answer: Former 49ers WR Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders came to San Francisco in October 2019 via a trade, the year Samuel was selected in the second round out of South Carolina.
“I think it helped a ton for him when [Buffalo Bills WR] Emmanuel [Sanders] came here,” Shanahan said when asked when he noticed the shift in Samuel’s preparation. “That’s when I saw the biggest. Deebo is one of the guys who we were counting on a lot as a rookie. And I think when Emmanuel got here, he really saw a true pro and not just how he prepared, but how he attacked practice every day. And Emmanuel only knew one way, like he went as hard as he could all the time and if he couldn’t, you had to protect him from himself. And I think it was really cool for Deebo to get to see. I think that’s why they clicked so much.”
Sanders, now with the Bills, is in his 12th year in the league after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the third round in 2010. He played with the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints as well, but was with the 49ers for one season during 2019 when they went to the Super Bowl.
Shanahan said Samuel used that limited time to learn at the vet’s knee. Samuel was eager to apply all that he had learned during his second year in the league, but he suffered injuries and missed time, and the setbacks made the season doubly painful for the young receiver.
“And then coming back into a second year, I know how hard he was preparing to not have a sophomore slump,” Shanahan said. “And then he had those injuries, which kind of made it inevitable. And to watch the frustration he had all year, you could tell he was very hungry coming into this year.”
Samuel Had to Learn to Add Discipline to Pure Talent
It can be easy for a gifted player to rely on natural talent. What marked a turning point in Samuel’s young professional – thanks to Sanders – was understanding he couldn’t rely on that alone, he needed to augment his ability with another level of dedication to his craft, practicing all the little details of his position that had come easy to him since his youth.
“Deebo is one of the most natural players I’ve been around,” Shanahan said. “He’s very smart. He’s very perceptive. I think he’s extremely socially aware. He kind of has an idea of how everyone is and things aren’t that hard to him. I think what Deebo has gotten better at is sometimes when you have a tendency for things not to be hard, you don’t always go through every single little thing. And I think he’s done a much better job of going through the little things, so he can be closer to perfect than not.”
The results speak for themselves. Besides twice being awarded NFC Offensive Player of the Week, Samuel is on pace with 979 yards and eight games remaining to threaten Calvin Johnson’s single season receiving yardage record of 1,964. But his ability to get the most out of his talent, having added discipline to ability, has made him capable of playing tailback as well. Shanahan lauded Samuel’s acumen for absorbing and effecting the offense as a running back as something very few players could do, and a direct result of Samuel’s learned dedication to being a pro.
In fact, Shanahan has never come across a receiver who could play tailback in his experience as a coach, he said.
“I haven’t had one,” Shanahan said.” I think there’s, no, I haven’t. I thought [former NFL WR] Percy Harvin had a chance like that and I’ve seen [Atlanta Falcons WR] Cordarrelle Patterson, [Jacksonville Jaguars WR] Tavon Austin a little bit over the years, but Deebo has been pretty special at it.”