So far, so good: SF 49ers Brandon Aiyuk, Javon Kinlaw beginning to emerge

Brandon Aiyuk #11 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Brandon Aiyuk #11 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

SF 49ers 2020 first-round draft picks, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and D-lineman Javon Kinlaw, are beginning to emerge as difference-makers.

Sure it’s a small sample size, but the SF 49ers‘ two first-round NFL Draft picks, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, are having an immediate and positive impact on the team thus far.

For Aiyuk, it’s been an even smaller sample, as the rookie missed the first game of the season with a hamstring injury suffered in training camp. Up to that point, he had impressed everyone with his work ethic and route-running ability. With fellow wideout Deebo Samuel on the three-game injured-reserve list, recovering from a Jones fracture suffered in the offseason, Aiyuk finally made his much-needed and highly anticipated debut in Week 2.

It was a modest debut, as he caught two passes for 21 yards. But it was an opportunity for Aiyuk to get his feet wet with anticipating and reacting to game speed and physicality. The following week against the NY Giants, Aiyuk continued his progression, recording 101 total yards and generally looking more comfortable in the SF 49ers offense.

And then Sunday Night Football happened.

In the bright lights of the prime-time game, Aiyuk literally took leaps and bounds in his development versus the Philadelphia Eagles. In the first quarter, Aiyuk took a screen pass from quarterback Nick Mullens, raced down the right sideline before leaping over Eagles safety Marcus Epps inside the 10-yard line and into the end zone while tight roping the sideline:

While a play like that is always highlight-worthy, it was even more so because it happened in a prime-time spot during Sunday night. All told, Aiyuk finished the game with two catches for just 9 yards. But more importantly, he flashed the talent head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch gushed about after making him the 25th pick in the 2020 draft.

So far this season, Aiyuk has nine catches for 109 yards, while rushing four times for 69 yds and two touchdowns through Week 4. With Samuel and tight end George Kittle now back in the fold after their injuries, Aiyuk should benefit even more from all the attention those two will garner from opposing defenses going forward. He seems to just be scratching the surface of his immense talent.

Kinlaw may not have stats that jump off the page, but his impact has most definitely been felt by a defensive line that surely needs his production after being decimated by injuries.

Through the first four games of his young career, Kinlaw has nine tackles, eight pressures, and two pass deflections, one leading to an interception by SF 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair.

While Kinlaw admittedly has a ways to go in refining his technique and pass-rush prowess, he is impacting the game with pure natural talent and power. He seems to be growing leaps and bounds with each start, and his effectiveness has not gone unnoticed. Pro Football Focus had this to say about Kinlaw:

"Kinlaw has been the most well-rounded defensive tackle in the rookie class so far. His eight total pressures are tied with Chase Young for the rookie lead, and his five run stops are three behind Derrick Brown for second in the class. He’s not quite replacing DeForest Buckner yet, but he looks like he will in time."

Even Shanahan has been impressed with Javon’s development, telling reporters:

"Each week, I think, he’s improved. Going against us all camp, then he sees a different offense each week, which I think has helped him a little bit, starting to understand some of the blocking schemes and stuff with the league. He’s going to have a good career here. I’m real excited about him and just expect him to keep climbing and getting better as this year goes."

Both Kinlaw and Aiyuk are still in the infancy of their NFL careers, and still learning the intricacies of the pro game. Their noted work ethic and dedication can only serve to enhance their incredible natural talent.

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Time will tell if they have the hunger and desire to be great. But if these early returns are any indication, the 49ers may have struck gold once again with these two young players.