Deebo Samuel

Why Shanahan likes Deebo on 49ers' kick-return duties

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Don't expect Deebo Samuel to relinquish the occasional kick-return duties when incumbent Ray-Ray McCloud returns from a rib injury that has sidelined him the last two games.

Samuel has returned multiple kickoffs in each game during McCloud's absence, with the All-Pro posting an impressive 25.5 yards per return on four opportunities over that span.

During a sit down with Greg Papa on NBC Sports Bay Area's "49ers Game Plan," coach Kyle Shanahan detailed his decision to utilize Samuel's incredibly unique skill set on special teams and why he doesn't plan on abandoning it even after McCloud returns.

"We have the last couple of weeks. I don't know if it's going to always stay; I think it will be kind of impulsive decisions," Shanahan told Papa. "But Deebo is so good with the ball. He knows how to run it. He is a threat to run it. I think he is special at it. When you do have a special guy at it, it's hard not to give him more opportunities. I love putting him back randomly in a playoff game or something. But if you only get an opportunity here or there, you're not going to really be able to do what your talent is."

While Shanahan is aware of the injury risk that comes with subjecting Samuel to additional danger on special teams duty, the 49ers coach explained why that doesn't deter him from rolling Samuel out to run back kicks.

"I would hate to get him hurt on a kickoff, just like I'd hate to get him hurt on a run play that's not to him, with him blocking or anything," Shanahan explained. "But you've got to weigh that risk sometimes because he is that special of a player. I know how bad he wants to do it, and it's something we'll always be thinking about here, especially throughout the rest of this year."

Samuel was a prolific kick returner in college, averaging 29 yards per return with four touchdowns on 42 kickoff return attempts during his time at the University of South Carolina.

The All-Pro provided a significant spark on special teams during the 49ers' unforgettable NFC Divisional Round win over the Green Bay Packers in January 2022, breathing life into a stagnant offense by running back the second half's opening kickoff for 45 yards.

Samuel has returned 13 kickoffs during his NFL career for an average of 25.2 yards per return. Six of those attempts have come in the postseason. Based on Shanahan's comments to Papa, don't be surprised if the All-Pro is utilized on special teams in the playoffs as the 49ers pursue the championship that has eluded the franchise for nearly three decades.

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