Deebo Samuel rebounds from self-described ‘awful’ season to star for the 49ers

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Deebo Samuel can be his own harshest critic, as evidenced by his description of his 2022 season for the San Francisco 49ers as “awful.”

No one would say that about the way Samuel has been playing of late this season, as he has regained the form that made him one of the NFL’s most dynamic playmakers in 2021 and has helped carry San Francisco to the top of the NFC standings.

“I think he’s at the top of his game right now,” coach Kyle Shanahan said.

That’s saying a lot considering how effective he was during his All-Pro 2021 season, when he had 77 catches for 1,405 yards and six touchdowns to go along with 59 carries for 365 yards and eight scores. His 1,770 yards from scrimmage that season have only been topped by Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in Niners history.

But an offseason contract dispute led to Samuel coming into camp out of shape. Samuel never fully recovered, leading to his negative portrayal of his 2022 performance when he had 864 yards from scrimmage and five TDs. Samuel said he was “sluggish” last season and vowed never to put that kind of performance on tape again.

“For him to say he was awful, c’mon now, that’s probably a little much,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “But the level that he’s playing at now is unbelievable. We need it from him. He’s such a big-time game changer, playmaker for us. … He’s been doing an incredible job. I’m not surprised the way that he works and everything that he’s earned. I’m really happy for him.”

Samuel had a big game early in Week 3 against the Giants before being slowed by injuries for a few weeks. His play picked up after San Francisco returned from a bye in Week 9, and he has been playing as well as ever the past few weeks.

“Since coming back from injury, I can see the level of play just getting better and better, week in and week out,” he said. “Just taking it a day at a time, to be the best me I can be for the team.”

Samuel had 138 yards from scrimmage and three TDs in a showdown win at Philadelphia two weeks ago and followed it up with 150 yards and two scores last week against Seattle.

He joined former Eagles running back Timmy Brown (1960) as the only players in NFL history with back-to-back games with at least 100 yards receiving and a TD run and catch. His 19 TD runs are the most for any wide receiver since at least 1960, with Samuel breaking Bobby Mitchell’s record of 18 last week.

Samuel has 900 yards from scrimmage and nine TDs this season despite missing two full games and part of a third with injuries.

Deebo Samuel’s 150 yards and two touchdowns carry the 49ers to a decisive win against Seahawks, 28-16

“I feel like he’s just more intent with the little things,” quarterback Brock Purdy said. “Last year was my first year with him, so I didn’t really know a whole lot. I thought he balled last year. You get the ball in his hands and he still killed it. But, he came back this year in great shape, looking good and then has given everything to this team. So, very proud of him. And obviously when you do get him the ball, he’s the same old Deebo, makes plays.”

NOTES: DT Arik Armstead (foot, knee), G Spencer Burford (knee), LB Oren Burks (knee), TE Ross Dwelley (ankle), LB Dre Greenlaw (hip, ankle), DT Javon Hargrave (hamstring), CB Ambry Thomas (personal matter), CB Charvarius Ward (groin), T Trent Williams (rest) all missed practice. … RB Elijah Mitchell (knee) was limited. … CB Jason Verrett took part in his first practice since signing to the practice squad earlier this week. Verrett was on San Francisco’s roster from 2019-22, but played only one game the past two seasons because of injuries.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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