We got a significant piece of injury news Thursday as players continue to informally work out with teammates to try to prepare for the 2020 season. After a big rookie season, 49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel has suffered the dreaded Jones fracture in his foot, an injury that in all likelihood will cost him the early part of the 2020 season.
Early reports have him in a walking boot for at least a month and a recovery time of 12-16 weeks. We are exactly 12 weeks to the day from the Thursday night opener to the 2020 NFL season, so the absolute short end of that window would give Samuel an outside shot to return in time for Week 1. Of course, Jones fractures are tricky and have a high rate of re-injury if a player returns too early. Renowned former NFL team doctor David Chao thinks the PUP list is a possibility.
The injury is a big blow for Samuel, who typically goes off the board in about the sixth round of Fantasy drafts. With the uncertainty going forward, Samuel's lengthy injury history dating back to college and the unfortunate high rate of re-injury of this particular fracture, I'll have a hard time considering Samuel before at least the ninth or 10th round now. There's still a possibility he might not even miss time, but in all likelihood this will cost him early-season games and potentially snaps even when he does return.
The biggest immediate riser for Fantasy is Brandon Aiyuk, who the 49ers traded up to select in the first round in April's draft. Aiyuk was a multifaceted producer in college and has flown under the radar a bit as the Fantasy community wasn't quite as high on him pre-draft as the 49ers clearly were.
One skill Aiyuk possesses that overlaps with Samuel and fits well with San Francisco's system is his ability with the ball in his hands. Aiyuk posted strong return numbers in junior college before his two-year stint at Arizona State where he continued to rack up return stats, albeit in a part-time capacity. Just being used in that way at the college level helps predict future success at the NFL level for wide receiver prospects.
Of course, the 49ers have a tendency to generate a ton of yards after the catch across their roster. A lot of that is simply the skill sets of players like Samuel and George Kittle, but it's also Kyle Shanahan's scheme that relies on misdirection and play-action built off the running game. Aiyuk's YAC ability was always a great fit for that scheme, but now that Samuel is likely to miss the early part of the season, he'll need to be a big part of the offense from Week 1.
Kittle will remain the top target, and we know the 49ers like to run the ball plenty. It's not immediately clear who could contend to be next in line at receiver between youngster Jalen Hurd, veteran Kendrick Bourne — who the team has always seemed to like — or formerly hyped options like Dante Pettis or Trent Taylor. That uncertainty and the presence of Kittle and the run lean in the offense make it unlikely any other 49ers receiver will rise much up draft boards. Expect the rest of the group to remain late-round options in drafts, while Aiyuk has a shot to start cracking the single-digit rounds and should likely be drafted ahead of Samuel now.