‘Deebo plays like one of the best players in the NFL’ | Professional soccer
GREG BEACHAM AP Sportswriter
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Cooper Kupp has led the league in every major receiving category this season, a Triple Crown feat accomplished only three times before in NFL history.
Deebo Samuel also racked up huge numbers but he didn’t just catch the ball. He also managed it and occasionally kicked it off while cementing his status as perhaps the most versatile and electrifying playmaker in football.
In a sport typically defined and dominated by quarterback play, two All-Pro receivers propelled their teams to the NFC Championship Game. Sunday’s meeting of the NFC West rivals is the third opportunity this season to see Kupp and Samuel on the same court as they near the end of spectacular seasons that will be remembered long after that showdown between the Los Angeles Rams ( 14-5) and the San Francisco 49ers. (12-7).
“I can’t believe we’re not talking about Deebo Samuel and Cooper Kupp (being) more popular for MVP candidates,” Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said. “I know it’s a quarterback-run league, but these two players absolutely challenged some of the things that are out there. … As a competitor, I can’t wait to see it. As a fan, you can’t wait to watch it, and it makes for a great game.”
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Kupp (1,993) and Samuel (1,845) ranked 1-2 in the NFC in all-around yards. Kupp’s 2,209 yards from scrimmage this season, including the playoffs, is the most by a receiver in NFL history, while Samuel needs just 44 yards this weekend to pass. Jerry Rice (1995) for second place on this list.
Kupp and Samuel carry an inordinate weight for their teams’ success for a catcher. The Rams and 49ers probably wouldn’t be in the NFC Championship Game without two of the best point guards in the game to drive their offense forward.
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In fact, they probably wouldn’t even have won last week.
Kupp had a 70-yard first TD catch followed by two superb last-minute receptions to set up the game-winning field goal in Los Angeles’ 30-27 win at Tampa Bay, finishing with 183 receiving yards.
Samuel saved his attack’s shaky performance by freezing Green Bay. After his long kickoff return set up San Francisco’s first field goal, he landed a tough first down and converted another long third with a gritty run on the final drive to set up the game-winning kick of Robbie Gould in the Niners’ 13. 10 stunning.
“They’re great football players who are all-around receivers,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “When the ball is in (Samuel’s) hands, good things happen. Cooper is very similar. We just don’t give him carry… but he does so many different things. You talk about two guys who played instrumental in getting their teams to where they are.”
Kupp and Samuel have some similarities that could point to the reasons for their success: Both played all four years of college football to become more fully developed talents, but neither was a first-round pick. Both landed with head coaches considered offensive gurus who specialize in making the most of their players’ all-round talents.
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Samuel has become a flexible positionless player under Kyle Shanahan, whose offense has passed to his top receiver 59 times this season. Samuel becomes something even more dangerous when he breaks free to reach top speed, scoring an NFL-high nine touchdowns on runs outside of tackles.
“It’s something you really dream of as a coach, in terms of being able to use people in different ways to try to come up with advantageous looks,” 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said.
“It’s a lot easier to figure things out on Monday and Tuesday when the problem you’re trying to solve is, ‘How can I get the ball to this guy? And on game day, ‘Hey, Deebo, here’s the ball.’ It’s the best thing you can imagine for a coach.”
And especially for Sunday, Samuel crushed the Rams this season. He had 192 receiving yards and 81 rushing yards against Los Angeles while throwing his first career touchdown pass as San Francisco came back for a game-changing playoff win at SoFi Stadium just three weeks ago.
“Deebo is playing like one of the best players in the NFL right now,” Shanahan said. “He’s obviously talented, but the willpower he has, it’s unbelievable.”
Morris struggled to find points of comparison for the two wides, ultimately settling for Samuel as being a version of “Anquan Boldin with Speed”.
“You can put it in any category, but it forms its own category,” Morris said.
Kupp uses precise routing and breakaway speed to propel the Rams offense forward. He doesn’t carry the ball much, but Kupp excels as a blocker for Rams running backs.
This playoff run is especially meaningful for Kupp, who was out for the season with a knee injury when the Rams entered the Super Bowl three years ago. He was injured in the playoff opener in Los Angeles last year and missed Game 2 of the playoffs in Green Bay.
Samuel played in the Super Bowl two years ago as a rookie, and Kupp was watching from home. He’s watched Samuel countless times since then through his obsessive cinematic study of the techniques of other top receivers.
“The biggest thing you gain is the appreciation for what he is able to do as a player, what was put on his plate and how he took part in a game of football,” Kupp said. “You have a lot of respect for someone who is willing to go out there and do whatever they ask them to do. He does it, and with everything he has.”