Overreaction No. 2: Brandon Aiyuk is the most talented receiver on the SF 49ers
Last year, the SF 49ers wide receivers room had become functionally whittled down to three players by the time the playoffs started: Emmanuel Sanders, Kendrick Bourne, and Deebo Samuel.
When the Niners opened up against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, Sanders had signed with the New Orleans Saints, Samuel broke his foot in the offseason, and Bourne had been thrust in as the primary receiver.
The results were less than adequate.
Weeks 2 and 3 were much better for the SF 49ers, so good that it begs the question how did the offense, now without tight end George Kittle, open up so dramatically?
The truth lies in a mixture of better game-planning, better quarterback play, and worse opponents. But that’s not a fun overreaction. That’s boring reality.
The other notable addition was rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk getting his first NFL action.
In Week 2, Aiyuk wasn’t heavily involved, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t playing well. He got separation on several routes, and most importantly, he was aggressive to the ball, a trait not many SF 49ers receivers possess it seems.
In Week 3, though, Aiyuk was fed the ball, especially to start the third quarter, and good things happened. On eight touches, he had 101 total yards. He was open for two potential touchdowns, but both times Nick Mullens threw an inaccurate pass. He did, however, get on the board with a rushing touchdown on a play Kyle Shanahan used to punish teams with Samuel:
Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com wrote after the game “[Aiyuk]’s earned the right to remain a prominent part of the offense moving forward,” and given how explosive he was, I couldn’t agree more.
Aiyuk’s natural abilities are freakish, especially his wing-span. He reached a top speed of 18.92 miles per hour against the Giants, which is top-level speed. His aggressiveness has already been noted, and his frame is prototypical for a player like Sanders.
Off his physical gifts, and after seeing how much he popped when used in the offense, is it crazy to say Aiyuk is better than Samuel? After all, it wasn’t until Sanders came that Samuel truly emerged.
The short answer is: yes. The long answer is… also yes. While Aiyuk probably slots in as definitely a starting-caliber receiver as of now, and a player who should receive a featured role, he is only a rookie. Shanahan said after the game said Aiyuk had some “struggles” in the first half and that he needed to get more aggressive.
Does Aiyuk look like the real deal? Yes. Is he the best receiver on the SF 49ers right now? Not yet.