As a child, Tyshun Samuel used to be a neighborhood bully. He would beat other kids up and take their toys, so says his father, Galen, so he began calling his son Deebo, after the 6-foot-6 bully played by Timmy “Tiny” Lister in the 1995 film, Friday.
One of the San Francisco 49ers’ top draft needs — after the dynamic edge rusher they got with Nick Bosa at No. 2 — was wide receiver. The 49ers’ receiving corps has lacked a true No. 1, and desptie the intriguing speed of Dante Pettis, he doesn’t quite fit the bill, and the team can’t run its entire offense through George Kittle. The solution? Deebo Samuel.
Needing a physical, versatile outside option, the 49ers zeroed in on the South Carolina wide out with the No. 36 pick in the draft, adding a weapon that Kyle Shanahan can use in a variety of ways, expanding the offense’s possibilities with a stable of backs that can catch out of the backfield, along with, of course, Kittle. And, of course, they drafted him on a Friday.
Samuel, a 5-foot-11, 214-pounder, is an explosive pass catcher, with a 39-inch vertical leap and a 4.48-second 40-yard time. Asked at the Draft if he’s still a bully, Samuel said, “Nah. On the field, I am.”
Samuel plays bigger — and tougher — than his size. Shanahan and the 49ers staff got an up-close look at Samuel while coaching him during the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, where he dominated in the week of practice, putting defenders on skates and making highlight grabs in the red zone (something the 49ers sorely lacked last year) and being named the Reese’s Senior Bowl Offensive Practice Player of the Week for wide receivers.
“I think he’s a great guy,” Samuel said of his future head coach. “Just talking to him, the first day I got there, without even like really hitting the field yet, and after hitting the field, we had a pretty good bit of conversations after that, just how I could go about my business.”
During that week, he got an entre into Shanahan’s offense by playing the Z-receiver spot.
“I feel like being able to move all over the place is going to help me a lot and also playing special teams,” Samuel said on a conference call after his selection.
“He was fantastic all week,” Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote. “He’s physical, well put together and runs good routes. Receivers get grabbed a ton out here at Senior Bowl practices. The corners are really grabby — things that are going to be penalties at the next level. Not only did he play through it, but a lot of times he worked himself wide open through his physicality inside the route and route acumen. He was smart in terms of how he got out of his brakes, and he caught everything that was thrown his way. I talked to a couple of teams that were really excited about what he did in the first two days here and there’s no way they’re not going to like what they saw today.”
Samuel finished his career for the Gamecocks with 2,076 yards on 148 catches, with 23 offensive touchdowns. He has the added dimension of being a kick returner, with four kickoffs returned for touchdown. The one blemish on his record was health, and that should be concerning to a 49ers team that had trouble keeping its best weapons — Pettis and Marquise Goodwin — on the field. He missed games early in his career with nagging hamstring issues, and lost most of a promising redshirt junior season to a broken leg and foot problem. In the first three games of that season, he’d caught 15 balls for 250 yards, rushed twice for 30 yards and returned both kickoffs he received for touchdowns.
As a senior, he earned first-team All-SEC honors as an all-purpose player and returner (23 returns for 570 yards and one TD on kickoffs) and was also named a second-team All-SEC receiver (62 catches for 882 yards, 11 TD). He started 11 of 12 games played but chose not to participate in his team’s bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL Scouting Combine.
The 49ers have now picked a wide receiver for the 17th draft in a row. Their next pick is at No. 67 overall at the top of the third round.