The 49ers won’t have do-it-all wide receiver Deebo Samuel for at least one week, and potentially two as he deals with a groin strain he suffered in a Week 12 win over the Vikings. Given Samuel’s unique skillset and multi-faceted role in their offense, the 49ers will need a number of players to expand their roles in his stead.
Here are six players who need to see an uptick in production while Samuel is on the mend:
(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Aiyuk’s last four weeks have looked similar to what the 49ers will need with their top receiver out. In those four games he’s earned 25 targets and hauled in 19 receptions for 291 yards and two touchdowns. His numbers may even need to see an uptick from that without Samuel’s targets. The former first-round pick is now thrust into the WR1 role and needs to continue playing at a high level to help keep the 49ers’ passing game afloat.
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Kittle is still one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league, but his production of late has been uncharacteristically low. He’s seen just 13 targets, 10 catches, 97 yards and two touchdowns the last three weeks. While those aren’t bad numbers, they’ll need to climb to what we’re more accustomed to seeing from Kittle the last three seasons when he was the 49ers’ de facto No. 1 receiver. If he can continue producing in the run game while also seeing more receiving action the 49ers shouldn’t lose much without Samuel.
RB Jeff Wilson Jr.
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Head coach Kyle Shanahan got creative in the run game with Samuel, but now he’ll need another pitch to throw at defenses. That’s where Wilson comes in as a change of pace from the rookie Elijah Mitchell. There may not be many new, exotic wrinkles with Wilson in the backfield, but he should see more action with Samuel’s carries up for grabs. This year he’s averaging only 2.7 yards per carry, but last year in 126 attempts he went for 4.8 yards per tote. He’ll need to climb back toward last year’s production in any added work he gets.
(AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Jennings has six targets the last three games, caught a touchdown in Week 12 and earned another red-zone target in that same game that he nearly hauled in for a second touchdown. He isn’t liable to see a huge uptick in usage, but there’s certainly a chance he gets touches in some of the same areas of the field Samuel does. Jennings is a big, physical receiver who can impact games in just a handful of touches per game – especially in the red zone.
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When Aiyuk was struggling early in the year it was Sherfield who saw the additional workload. He made a nice catch in traffic against the Vikings after Samuel went down, and he could see more work in the next couple weeks. Sherfield this year has only 11 targets, but he should get additional opportunities without the top receiver in the lineup.
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Samuel is Garoppolo’s go-to target. When in doubt, the 49ers’ quarterback fits a throw in to his best receiver. He’s also benefitted from the added production in the run game. There’s a high level of play Garoppolo is capable of reaching that he’ll need to hit without the team’s leading receiver. He’s been good the last few weeks, but he needs to be even better without Samuel to rely on.