Much was expected of rookie receiver Deebo Samuel, a second-round draft pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, coming out of South Carolina. And while he hasn’t always produced at the highest level, it’s clear Kyle Shanahan is interesting in getting the ball in the former Gamecock’s hands as much as possible.
Consequently, Samuel has lined up at various places in the formation, including as an outside receiver on both sides (more left than right), in the slot, in the backfield, and even as an inline tight end for three snaps.
Samuel has responded with decent games, with his best showing coming in Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals, where he grabbed five catches for 86 yards and his first NFL touchdown. He’s also ran the ball three times for eight yards.
Surprisingly, Samuel hasn’t spent nearly as much time in the slot as other members of the 49ers receiving corps this year, with just 38 of his 209 snaps coming in that position. Coming out of college, his versatility was one of his many selling points, but Shanahan appears more interested in turning Samuel into an outside receiver.
This means that while Sanders may take away some of Samuel’s opportunities, the former’s propensity to move around the formation may mean that the second outside receiver spot — assuming Goodwin keeps up his role — will come down to Dante Pettis and Samuel.
Based on their roles so far, it’s a dead even heat between the second-round selections from the last two drafts, but with Samuel’s bruising running style proving more complementary to Sanders’ shifty speed, the rookie may find himself winning out, though it will be close.