Deebo Samuel

Shanahan discusses if 49ers will keep Deebo in return game

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In the NFL, it is always about the “more you can do," and Deebo Samuel is showing he can do it all

In the 49ers' 28-16 win over the Seattle Seahawks, Samuel returned kickoffs for the club for the second game in a row. Coach Kyle Shanahan spoke on Monday via conference all about the decision to have his star player on the field for one of the more dangerous plays in football.

“We got to take that risk-reward every week,” Shanahan said. “We decided to do it the last two weeks, and we will come up with that decision each week going forward.”

After the Philadelphia Eagles' first drive of Week 13, the All-Pro receiver jogged out onto the field to receive the kickoff. Samuel caught the ball deep in the end zone and carried the ball 35 yards, out to the 27-yard line.

The change in personnel seemed natural with the club’s return specialist Ray-Ray McCloud sidelined with a rib injury. Samuel, who has returned kickoffs in the past, recorded a 28-yard return on his second attempt midway through the third quarter.

Rookie receiver Ronnie Bell stepped in as the team’s punt returner in place of McCloud.

“That wasn’t just a decision with Ray-Ray McCloud being out,” Shanahan said. “It was also a decision we were thinking about going to, regardless. Nothing against Ray-Ray or anyone, it was just more ways to get a special player, like Deebo, the ball in his hands.”

In his All-Pro season of 2021, Samuel recorded three kickoffs for 75 yards in the regular season and four additional returns for 85 yards in the playoffs. One year later, the “wide-back” again took part in kickoff duties during the club’s 2022 playoff run, registering two returns for 65 yards.

There is no doubt that Samuel has a knack for the return game. In the playoffs, the All-Pro has a 25-yard-per-return average, which is just slightly less than his 25.3 career regular-season average.

McCloud will remain on injured reserve for at least three more games with multiple rib injuries, putting his potential return at the club’s final regular season game in Week 17 when the Los Angeles Rams will visit Levis’ Stadium.

Until then, Shanahan is leaning toward Samuel being the club’s kickoff return man.

“Most likely,” Shanahan said.

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