The 49ers dodged a bullet with regard to Deebo Samuel not suffering a serious injury, yet he’ll still be out a few weeks and will need some fill-in support.
For a few moments during the San Francisco 49ers’ one-sided domination over quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Faithful nevertheless cringed and worried at the very real possibility they had just witnessed star wide receiver Deebo Samuel suffer what looked like a season-ending leg injury.
Toward the end of the second quarter, Samuel had two Bucs defenders fall upon him on an inside run. While Samuel fumbled the ball to Tampa Bay’s recovery, no one cared about that. Instead, fans and teammates alike worried if Samuel’s ankle and leg had bent too far underneath the two Buccaneers players.
Particularly when Samuel was emotionally shaken while being carted off the field.
Fortunately, initial postgame reports suggested Samuel had avoided serious injury, and head coach Kyle Shanahan subsequently told reporters that nothing had been broken. On Monday, NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco reported improbable news: Samuel could be back at some point during the regular season even though there are only four weeks left.
Incredible news for Samuel. Incredible news for the fanbase. And incredible news for Samuel’s teammates, too, especially rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, who wowed in his first-ever NFL start and completely outclassed Brady on all fronts.
Still, Purdy is going to need all the help he can get down the stretch. With Samuel out, the Niners are going to need some other receivers to step up and support Purdy and the offense for the time being.
Particularly these three.
Brandon Aiyuk must fill in for Deebo Samuel as 49ers’ WR1
Samuel, at least from a statistical perspective, actually isn’t San Francisco’s No. 1 wide receiver. That honor would go to his teammate, Brandon Aiyuk, who has 755 receiving yards and seven catches on 58 catches so far this year, numbers that are all higher than those of Samuel.
That said, no one is considering Aiyuk the superior player. No, he’s merely a beneficiary of Samuel commanding that kind of attention as a true top threat.
Now, however, Aiyuk will have to rise to the occasion as the guy on the 49ers offense, particularly at this position, while understanding he’s going to draw opponents’ top cornerbacks from here on out until Samuel returns.
Aiyuk’s maturation this year suggests he’ll do this, but it’s gone from a positive development for the Niners into a necessity.
Jauan Jennings must be even more a possession receiver for Brock Purdy, 49ers
Much like last year, although not quite as many touchdowns, fellow wideout Jauan Jennings’ reputation as a third-down target has been something of importance.
Case in point, of Jennings’ 27 catches so far this season, 16 of them have been on third down, and 14 of those have successfully converted into a new set of downs, too.
Jennings isn’t the fastest wide receiver in the NFL by any stretch, but Purdy’s limited arm strength won’t need to capitalize on that ability. No, instead, Purdy will be looking for a tough, physical presence who is capable of winning the one-on-one matchups against lesser defensive backs.
For now, just as he was for much of last season, Jennings can continue to be that guy.
49ers can turn Ray-Ray McCloud into an ‘honorary YAC Bros.’ member
Samuel, prone to picking up chunk yards after the catch, is going to be missed. There isn’t any getting away from that.
However, San Francisco can turn to special teams ace and depth wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud to potentially spark the offense in this regard, especially if short-area passes from Purdy wind up giving the speedy returner a chance to make plays in space.
Think screens, slants, etc.
To date, McCloud has only been scantly used on offense, hauling in 12 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown. But, with the 49ers needing another veteran presence who has some ability to make defenders miss in space, adding McCloud to the offensive game plan wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Look for him to be an X-factor in the upcoming weeks.