Can first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk contribute to 49ers offense right away?
The San Francisco 49ers traded up in the 2020 NFL Draft to secure the wide receiver that general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan felt would best fit their system. That receiver was Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk.
Aiyuk is a talented pass-catcher with good speed and a huge wingspan for his 6-foot, 205-pound frame. He can make highly contested catches but where he really separates himself is by picking up yards after the catch.
It’s no secret Shanahan looks for players who can create big plays in the open field with the ball in their hands. 49ers All-Pro tight end George Kittle and standout receiver Deebo Samuel are two of the best players in the league at picking up yards after the catch.
Aiyuk definitely fits this mold. In his last season at ASU, he averaged an outstanding 10.9 yards after the catch. Talk about a guy that can move the chains.
Brandon Aiyuk’s rookie season ceiling
Based on where the 49ers drafted Aiyuk and Shanahan’s early praise saying he was, quote, “The top-rated wide receiver on their draft board,” it would not be a surprise if he stepped into the role was vacated by Emmanuel Sanders leaving in free agency this offseason.
In just 10 games with the Niners, Sanders hauled in 36 catches for 502 yards and three touchdowns. If you project that over a regular 16-game season, his numbers would have looked something like 59 catches for 816 yards and five touchdowns.
That seems to be the realistic ceiling for the former ASU Sun Devil.
Aiyuk has a unique skill set and will be a staple in coach Shanahan’s offense for years to come. A rookie season similar to what we saw out of Samuel last year would not be an unrealistic outcome.
Still, Aiyuk has a ton of potential an aging Sanders lacked last season. It would not be shocking if he was able to surpass the numbers Sanders was on pace for last season due to his knack for picking up big yardage with the ball in his hands.
Brandon Aiyuk’s rookie season floor
49ers wide receivers Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd missed all of the 2019 season due to injuries. They both are on track to return in 2020.
Taylor was an early favorite of franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo when the latter was traded to the 49ers from the New England Patriots back in 2017. Due to injuries, however, the two haven’t been able to stay on the field together ever since.
Hurd is a huge 6-foot-4, 227-pound target Jimmy G could benefit from in the red zone.
Adding these two playmakers back into the mix with Samuel and Kittle could leave only so many targets to go around to Aiyuk. Remember, San Francisco is still very much a run orientated offense.
Aiyuk could quickly find himself at the bottom of the receiving depth chart with a likely shortened offseason looming due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
If he is unable to pick up the offense in an accelerated manner, then it will be tough for him to make a significant impact in his rookie season.