No. 1: 49ers Wide Receiver Brandon Aiyuk
The Niners used one of their two first-round NFL Draft picks this year to select former Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, having the full intention of making the prolific pass catcher a starter on offense sooner than later.
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But it would have been premature to assume Aiyuk would be a starter from Week 1, provided all the context remained the exact same as it was during the draft. After all, rookie receivers can struggle with the transition from the collegiate ranks to the pros, especially considering Kyle Shanahan’s complex offense after Aiyuk primarily operated in a relatively simple system under Sun Devils’ head coach Herm Edwards.
Yet that was before second-year wide receiver Deebo Samuel, the team’s best weapon at the position, suffered a Jones fracture in his foot, which could sideline him the first few weeks of the regular season. Samuel was assured a starting spot on offense, while the best guess for a No. 2 receiver to start the year was the veteran, Kendrick Bourne.
Bourne likely gets bumped up the chart if Samuel is unavailable early, and that could ultimately prompt Shanahan to insert Aiyuk into the starting lineup right away.
It might not be the ideal scenario, and there’s always the danger of hastening Aiyuk’s acclimation too quickly.
At the same time, though, Aiyuk just as easily could show all the reasons why Shanahan thought so highly of him during the draft, solidifying a starting role and not giving it up anytime soon.