Anavarathan: Deebo Samuel's rushing success opened up 49ers' second-half offensive display
As an offensive play designer, 49ers' Kyle Shanahan is considered among one of the best the NFL has to offer. Whether it was in Cleveland, Atlanta or San Francisco, Shanahan has been a grand master, moving his offensive skill players like pieces on a chess board, forcing opposing defenses into checkmate.
Yet, for even some of the best play designers, sometimes it's as simple as getting the ball into the hands into your quickest home run threats and allowing those players to make magic.
As the 2019 season wore on, San Francisco's receiving options became quite limited with injuries to Jalen Hurd and Trent Taylor, but rookie Deebo Samuel stepped up as a primary option for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Samuel's receiving numbers after Week 8 became eye-opening, as he piled up yards after the catch and garnered the attention of opposing defensive coordinators. He had three, 100-yard receiving games and five games of at least five receptions, whereas he only had one prior to that point.
One of the biggest reasons for his increased receiving production was actually his higher involvement in Shanahan's ground game. Between Weeks 1 - 8, Samuel only rushed the ball five times. Since that point in the season, he rushed the ball 15 times and added a pair of touchdowns.
To close out the regular season, Samuel had four games of at least 20 rushing yards in the final five games. Shanahan made a concerted effort to involve the rookie in the running game and it paid dividends late in the season.
The 49ers' offensive staff also saved Samuel's best for the playoffs, as he averaged 17.0 yards per rush attempt in the postseason, while averaging a measly 11.4 yards per attempt in the regular season.
In the Super Bowl, Samuel gained 53 yards on the ground on three separate rushing attempts, yet Kyle Shanahan chose to go away from him late in the second half when the 49ers' offense was sputtering and looking for a spark.
Per Pro Football Focus, 69 of Samuel's 159 rushing yards came after contact, so he wasn't just a finesse runner, but a player that displayed physicality.
At a minimum of 10 rushing attempts, Samuel led all wide receivers with 11.4 yards per attempt. Under the same parameters, the 49ers' rookie also led the way in avoided tackles and yards after contact per rush. It's safe to say that his rushing dominance was on full display as a receiver.
The former South Carolina receiver also alluded to this during Wednesday's Zoom call with local Bay Area reporters, adding that Samuel and rookie Brandon Aiyuk could be interchangeable in San Francisco's offense, especially with jet-sweep motions and other running plays.
While Aiyuk wasn't known to be a rushing threat at Arizona State, his speed after the catch is visible on tape and I think that can easily translate to a rushing attack as well.
Imagine the plays that Shanahan will be able to design on the field, when he has Samuel and Aiyuk on the field together to go along with tight end George Kittle and the plethora of running backs the 49ers can offer.
(Cover Image: Scott Strazzante, San Francisco Chronicle)