Anavarathan: 49ers' WR Deebo Samuel looks to fill leadership void in Year Two
"When we got [wide receiver] Emmanuel [Sanders] last season, the whole room changed. He brought the leader mentality and the veteran mentality we needed. He taught us a lot about the game, both on and off the field," 49ers' second-year wideout Deebo Samuel claimed as he spoke with local media on Wednesday afternoon. The ex-South Carolina wide receiver was effusive in his praise of Sanders' leadership and what the veteran wideout brought to a young 49ers' receiving core.
San Francisco will look to move forward in 2020 without their most seasoned pass catcher from last season, as Sanders signed a two-year contract with the New Orleans Saints. The 49ers' salary cap gymnastics was not flexible enough to keep Sanders in town, as the front office decided to spread the capital to other position groups on the roster.
While quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers' offense will certainly miss Sanders' 36 catches or three touchdowns from last season, the wide receiver room is now void of the expertise and professionalism that the former Bronco brought on a daily basis.
Samuel explained to the local media that wideout Kendrick Bourne, Sanders, coach Wes Welker and himself would often show up to Levi's Stadium an hour before everyone else to work through Kyle Shanahan's dense playbook and walk through the plays for that day's game.
While many seem to dwell on the sunk cost of third and fourth-round picks for the veteran receiver, the knowledge that he brought with him to San Francisco for a few months will likely have a lasting effect on these young receivers.
Looking ahead to 2020, wideout Travis Benjamin is the receiver who has logged the most time in the NFL, while the rest of the group has only been in the NFL since the inception of the Kyle Shanahan-John Lynch era in San Francisco.
Samuel is the most talented name in that group and will look to carry the title of No. 1 receiver on the field -- but also off of it.
The former South Carolina star has already taken major steps towards becoming the leader of this receiving core, reaching out to his rookie teammate Brandon Aiyuk on draft night.
"I know how hard it is to be as good as you want to be in the offense without thinking, so I gave him [Aiyuk] a call and told him 'hey man, I just want you to know it's going to take time. If you need anything, feel free to call me, Kendrick Bourne or coach Wes Welker.'"
It didn't just stop with the offensive side of the ball, as Samuel reached out to first-round defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw as well.
"I called him and told him he's got big shoes to fill and he's more than ready to get out there and show the coaches what he's capable of and I've seen it first hand when I was there in South Carolina."
Samuel also touched on the fact that he will be looking to be more of a vocal leader this upcoming season. While he emphasized that he was a "lead by example" type of player, he will look to use his voice in the locker room more often in 2020.
The 49ers' brain trust had some difficult choices to make this offseason and they chose to get cheaper and inexperienced, replacing Emmanuel Sanders and DeForest Buckner with Brandon Aiyuk and Javon Kinlaw.
The leadership void that's left behind will have to be filled by some of the other players on the roster and second-year player Deebo Samuel looks ready to step up to the plate.
[Cover Image: Stan Szeto, USA Today Sports]