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If you want to identify a wide receiver prospect with the potential to turn a pro, you should research if they have experience as a high school and / or college kick / punt turner. This is one of the lessons I learned from Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike Holmgren when I played for him with the Packers and worked with him as a recruiter for the Seahawks.

He told me that a catcher with extensive experience as a returner would have ball skills, running ability and tenacity. These traits were essential for thriving in the West Coast offense he learned from legendary trainer Bill Walsh in San Francisco. The 49ers offense featured Jerry Rice and John Taylor on the perimeter. Although Holmgren was enamored with Rice’s talents and prowess as WR1, he had a soft spot for Taylor and his ability to turn short passes into long wins using some of the skills he developed as a premier. punt turner.

Watching the modern-day Niners play, I’m sure the now-retired Holmgren would have loved to craft game plans around Deebo Samuel’s talents. The third-year pro went on to become one of the NFL’s top receivers while also becoming the # 1 option in San Francisco’s passing game. He just broke Rice’s franchise record for most receiving yards in seven games at 819, and he leads the league with an average of 117 receiving yards per game. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to see him add to that total on Sunday against the Cardinals, but he’s questionable with a calf injury.

While I like several things about Samuel’s game, it is his dynamic playing ability with the ball in his hands that separates him from the rest. He combines top-notch speed, strength and power with exceptional vision, balance and body control to waltz through defenses as a wrestling specialist. As a former All-American kick returner in South Carolina, Samuel turns every touch into a return, with the 6-footer, 215-pounder moving or breaking through defenders on the perimeter. These spectacular skills helped Samuel win the second-most YAC (yards after catch) with 416.

With Cooper Kupp and Tyreek Hill – both of whom have experience as turners – also ranking in the top five in receiving yards, my old boss might have been on something when he advised me to never overlook the value of return skills when detecting the upper pass. catchers.

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