The San Francisco 49ers could be without their star wide receiver Deebo Samuel in Sunday's NFC Championship game against the Detroit Lions.
According to ESPN reporter Adam Schefter, it could be a coin flip as to whether Deebo can play in the game:
Samuel suffered a shoulder injury during the Niners' thrilling victory over the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, exiting the game just before halftime and only returning to the field after removing his pads and uniform.
It's a problem for 49ers if Deebo Samuel misses NFC Championship game
Of course, losing Deebo for this game would be a huge blow for San Francisco. Samuel is the team's star wide receiver and brings so much to the game with both his versatility and physicality on the field.
It will be impossible to replace him if he is unable to go.
However, if he does miss the game, it will also create other problems for the 49ers on offense as well as with team chemistry.
It is no coincidence that the Niners' three-game skid earlier in the season occurred after Samuel suffered a hairline fracture in his shoulder in Week 6 against the Cleveland Browns. San Francisco missed his presence both on the field and off the field, and this was also when the 49ers were missing left tackle Trent Williams, another emotional leader on the team.
Quarterback Brock Purdy spoke about the importance of having both Williams and Samuel, obviously for their talents on the field, but also for the fact that they both usually lead the Niners onto the field out of the tunnel, oftentimes with Deebo bumping along to the boom box:
Even if Samuel is still leading the exit from the tunnel on Sunday, it will be a much different vibe if he is in sweats rather than suited up and ready for battle.
Beyond the emotional loss that would accompany the wide receiver being unable to play, the effect on the field would likely be just as great. Without Deebo, the 49ers offense may become much less dynamic and may become much more predictable.
No longer can you put both Samuel and running back Christian McCaffrey in the backfield together or run motions with the two of them where opposing defenses spin themselves in a tizzy trying to figure out who is going to get the ball.
That removes a critical element of San Francisco's offense.
The 49ers will still have skill players all over the field even if Deebo cannot play. McCaffrey is the best running back in the NFL, George Kittle is the best overall tight end in the NFL, and fellow wideout Brandon Aiyuk has reached another level this year. All three guys will need to step up if Samuel can't go.
But the 49ers will also need No. 3 wide receiver Jauan Jennings, who had a great game against the Packers, to step up and provide some of that physicality and swagger that Deebo usually brings to the table. Depth receiver Chris Conley could be another name to watch as he could receive some favorable matchups with teams focusing on Aiyuk, McCaffrey, and Kittle.
Just look at this third down play that occurred in the fourth quarter against the Packers. Wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud ran a bad route that made Purdy scream, "What are you doing?" and a coach (although I do not think it was Shanahan) on the sideline jumped up and down hysterically:
This shows the downstream effect of losing Deebo. Other guys who haven't had much playing time all year will be forced to do things that they haven't practiced a ton which could be dangerous, especially this deep in the postseason.
In short, no one player would be able to replace Samuel if his injury prevents him from playing on Sunday.
But as the 49ers have shown time and time again, they are a team with a "next man up" mentality.
And it will be a team effort to try to make up for the hole that Samuel will leave on offense.