No. 2: Brandon Aiyuk’s development time could hinder Deebo Samuel
Few wide receivers in the NFL are good enough to function at a high level without a solid complementary piece. It’s the proverbial “Batman needs his Robin” argument here. In 49ers lore, it’s Hall of Famer Jerry Rice enjoying the services of fellow wideout John Taylor over the years.
San Francisco hopes its newest rookie, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk, can be that perfect partner for Deebo Samuel moving forward. And there are plenty of reasons to be excited about this pairing, too.
Yet it’s important to admit rookie pass catchers, especially those being immersed in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, can take a while to hit their stride. Samuel was no exception last year, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Aiyuk struggle early with the various nuances of Shanahan’s complex scheme.
If that’s the case, Samuel will find himself assuming that No. 1 role essentially by himself without another wide receiver to take loads of the pressure off him. True, the 49ers boast the best tight end in the league, George Kittle. But Kittle won’t regularly be covered by other teams’ top cornerbacks, rather a combination of safeties and linebackers.
That’ll leave Samuel going up one on one against top corners, which is something he didn’t have to do over the second half of 2019.
Should Samuel struggle with this element of his pro evolution, it could spell a possible regression until Aiyuk gets up to speed.