Image Credit: Butch Dill/Associated Press
The NFL is in peak smokescreen season with just three weeks until the draft. The San Francisco 49ers’ front office has been notoriously tight-lipped since John Lynch took the reins as the general manager. What was once a franchise that could not stay out of tabloid headlines has become one of the most secretive in the entire league. Most notably, last year’s first-round pick, Mike McGlinchey, was not brought in on a pre-draft visit prior to being the ninth-overall selection.
On Tuesday, a rumor circulated that the 49ers were interested in a pair of wide receivers that could be available with their 36th overall pick. South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel and Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry being connected to the 49ers should come as no surprise, even Kyle Shanahan has said that the team will look to upgrade the receiver position moving forward. Do either of these players make sense for what Shanahan would like to do with the offense?
Let’s start with the more obvious of the two, Deebo Samuel. He has been linked to the 49ers since a standout performance in Mobile, AL at the Senior Bowl. Kyle Shanahan was able to coach and have a close eye on Samuel for a week while he was a member of the South team. During the practices, Samuel consistently juked cornerbacks out of their shoes in individual drills, often times making them look lost. Crisp route running that creates separation is one of the top attributes Shanahan looks for in a wide receiver, evidenced by their selection of Dante Pettis in the second round of last year’s draft.
Samuel would project to play as an outside wide receiver, the position he played almost exclusively at South Carolina. His 4.48-second 40-yard dash at the combine was nearly identical to what Pettis was able to run at his pro day. Samuel plays much bigger than his 5’11” frame as he is able to consistently beat press coverage and create many yards-after-catch scenarios. His biggest weakness comes when he is unable to create the separation and forced to make contested catches. Samuel is also not a particularly strong blocker in the run game but is able to put a hat on a hat.
Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry is a receiver who has been mocked everywhere from the middle of the first round all the way back to the end of the second. Almost an exact opposite of Deebo Samuel, Harry lacks refinement in his route running with a limited route tree consisting of mostly hitches, bubble screens and comebacks. He wins by using his large 6’2” frame and 33-inch arms to outstretch defenders and display his exceptionally strong hands to bring in contested catches. Harry possesses the ability to be a mauler in the run game at the second level using his size and strength to physically dominate smaller defensive backs.
Due to his limited route running ability, Harry may be relegated as a “big slot” until he can develop those skills. One aspect of his game that is very similar to Samuel’s is his capability to hit a home run on nearly every catch. Harry’s highlight reel is full of him taking short routes all the way to the house, running through arm tackles and reversing field. His frame makes him nearly impossible to bring down once he is able to get a full head of steam and display his 4.53-speed.
In the end, how the draft falls will ultimately determine whether or not either of these receivers will be suiting up in red and gold in 2019. However, in a vacuum, Deebo Samuel seems to be a much more natural fit for Kyle Shanahan’s offense. While N’Keal Harry would be fun to watch as he was schemed open and given the ball in space, Samuel’s ability to create that space on his own is exactly what is needed for the 49ers’ passing attack.
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