SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Speaking after a June 6 mandatory minicamp practice, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel minced no words when asked to assess his performance in the 2022 season, describing it as “awful” in “every aspect.”

Samuel said he watched video of himself with Niners coach Kyle Shanahan and came away upset with what he saw.

“Just going through the tape, it was, ‘Look at how sluggish and how bad you look on tape,'” Samuel said. “I’ll never put nothing like that back on tape again.”

If his four seasons in the NFL are any indication, the bounce-back season that Samuel is seeking is well within his reach. For one, Samuel will not have a contract situation looming over his head as he did a year ago. Looking back, Samuel called the contract stalemate a distraction, saying he believed that he didn’t work as hard in the offseason as he did before the 2021 season at least in part because of it.

Although it’s been only four seasons, Samuel’s career has developed a bit of an every-other-year pattern. In the odd-numbered seasons of 2019 and 2021, Samuel was at his best. In the even-numbered seasons, Samuel struggled to stay healthy and, by his own admission, did not meet expectations.

In the 2019 and 2021 seasons combined, Samuel played 31 regular-season games, posting 134 receptions for 2,2027 yards (16.5 yards per catch) and nine touchdowns, while averaging 7.2 yards per rush on 73 carries with 11 rushing touchdowns.

In the 2020 and 2022 seasons combined, Samuel played 20 regular-season games, posting 89 receptions for 1,023 yards (11.5 yards per catch) and three touchdowns, while averaging 5.2 yards per rush on 50 carries with three rushing touchdowns.

Perhaps that trend is simply a coincidence, but there’s no denying that Samuel is aiming to get back to the 2021 form that was instrumental in him landing the three-year, $71.55 million contract extension he signed last August.

“He’s definitely been grinding, which I think with all great players, I think every offseason, even if it’s 1%, you figure out how to do things a little better,” left tackle Trent Williams, a close friend and sometimes a workout partner of Samuel, said. “Whether it’s starting faster or starting later. Figuring out ways to get your body healthy as opposed to just lifting weights. Everybody has their own recipe. So I just look at it as another part of his maturation.”

While Samuel’s self-assessment might have come off as harsh — he still finished with 864 scrimmage yards and five total touchdowns in 13 games — the idea that he wasn’t playing at the same turbo-charged speed that landed him a first-team All-Pro nod in 2021 has plenty of merit.

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Samuel reached a max speed of 20.37 mph in San Francisco’s playoff win against the Seattle Seahawks, but he hit only 20 mph in a game twice and touched the 19-plus mph mark only five times in 16 games, including the playoffs. That’s a steep drop from 2021, when Samuel hit a max speed of 20.62 mph (also against Seattle) but touched 20 mph in four games and hit at least 19 mph in all but four of the 20 games (including the playoffs) he played in.

“The main focus this year is just to get back to the summer of what I did in 2021,” Samuel said. “Not even the season, just the summer and getting back to the groove of things and getting back in the routine.”

Samuel’s attempt to regain his 2021 form comes against the backdrop of an interesting time for the Niners at the position. Brandon Aiyuk, who led the team in receiving last season with 78 receptions for 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns, is in line for a lucrative contract extension if he can follow it up with another big season. The early returns on that seem positive, as Aiyuk was a consistent standout in the team’s offseason program, with Samuel suggesting that Aiyuk “can’t be covered in a phone booth right now.”

“He’s going to be a top-five receiver in this league this year,” cornerback Deommodore Lenoir said of Aiyuk. “He’s going to put everybody on notice. I feel like he’s been so underrated, he really going to get the credit that he deserves.”

Aiyuk says he’s underrated but also ready to “take off” in 2023. If that happens, the Niners will have to make a decision at some point in the next couple of years on whether they can afford to keep Samuel and Aiyuk on what would be significant price tags.

But that’s for down the road. For now, Samuel says he’s not competing with anyone but himself and vows to return ready for Day 1 of training camp. And if Samuel is able to regain his form and join the likes of Aiyuk, tight end George Kittle and running back Christian McCaffrey, the Niners’ offense has the potential to make life awful for opposing defenses.

“I love Deebo,” Kittle said. “He does a ton for us. I know there are plays that he wishes he had back, and we all do, but I know when Deebo is very motivated. He’s a fantastic football player. I’m not saying he wasn’t motivated last year, but I definitely think there is a little bit more of a fire under him this year. And I think it’s just himself. I think if he said that, then I know that he’s going to go out there and try to have a better year this year, which I appreciate, because if Deebo is trying to be better, that’s only good for the Niners.”

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49ers’ Deebo Samuel working toward odd-year bump after ‘sluggish’ 2022 – ESPN – San Francisco 49ers Blog