]49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel celebrates after the 49ers defeated...

]49ers wide receiver Deebo Samuel celebrates after the 49ers defeated the Cowboys in an NFL wild-card playoff game in Arlington, Texas, on Jan. 16. Credit: AP/Roger Steinman

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — OK, so how do you best describe Deebo Samuel?

Wide receiver?

Running back?

Punt returner?

Kickoff returner?

The easy answer: Yes.

And if you want to throw quarterback in there, go ahead, because Samuel attempted the first two passes of his career during the regular season.

Arguably the most versatile player in today’s NFL, Samuel has been at the heart of the 49ers’ resurgence this season and their unlikely march to the NFC Championship Game against the Rams on Sunday. He is willing to do literally anything to help his team, and 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, one of the NFL’s most innovative coaches, is finding new and unique ways to use his terrific playmaker.

Samuel has played critical roles in the 49ers’ first two playoff wins. In their 23-17 victory over NFC East champion Dallas on the road, he rushed 10 times for 72 yards and scored a second-half rushing touchdown. A week later against the top-seeded Packers at Lambeau Field, he had 10 carries for 39 yards and caught three passes for 44 yards, including a key reception on the 49ers’ game-winning drive in a 13-10 upset of Aaron Rodgers’ Packers. Samuel also had a 45-yard kickoff return to set up a third-quarter field goal.

Even the greatest receiver of all time, 49ers Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, has a great appreciation for all that Samuel can do.

"I see him as both [wide receiver and running back]," Rice said this past week on NFL Network. "He can take that punishment from those big defensive linemen. He has the vision where, once he gets into the open area, he’s thinking six. He’s going to score the touchdown. Then the physicality of him, too. He’s not looking to just fall down or anything like that. He’s looking to dish out punishment when he’s running the football."

Rice had 87 carries during his 20-year career. Samuel already has 81 rushes in three seasons.

Samuel undoubtedly will be counted on heavily in Sunday’s game against the Rams. And if past is prologue, the gritty offensive star, who was selected this year as an All-Pro receiver, will have a big game. In his three seasons, he hasn’t lost to the Rams in six games.

In a Week 18 game against the Rams, Samuel’s 43-yard catch-and-run in the final minute of regulation set up the tying field goal, and the 49ers won in overtime to qualify for the playoffs.

Samuel says the belief in Shanahan — and vice versa — is key to his and his team’s success.

"It shows the trust that Kyle has in all 11 guys out there, from the offensive linemen to Juice [fullback Kyle Juszczyk] to all the wideouts, just the physicality," Samuel said. "In this offense, every guy in the running game is accounted for blocking. There’s just one guy left, and you got to go out there and make a play."

More often than not, Samuel is the guy to make that play.

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