49ers

49ers' Kyle Shanahan believes Brandon Aiyuk can fill Emmanuel Sanders void

49ers' Kyle Shanahan believes Brandon Aiyuk can fill Emmanuel Sanders void

Brandon Aiyuk has big shoes to fill in the Bay Area.

The 49ers selected the Arizona State wide receiver with the No. 25 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, trading up from No. 31 to secure the YAC king before the Packers could bring him to Green Bay. Coach Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers have high hopes for Aiyuk. They had him ranked atop a loaded wide receiver class along with Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, and even debated taking him at No. 13 overall.

In Aiyuk, the 49ers hope to get a versatile receiver who can step in immediately and help make up for the loss of Emmanuel Sanders, who joined the New Orleans Saints in free agency.

"It didn't matter where you put him and it didn't matter what the play was, and that's what we got a little bit with Emmanuel when we traded for him, and that's what I think we're getting with Brandon," Shanahan said, via ESPN's Nick Wagoner.

"This guy wants to be great. I want someone like that. And I think he has the tools to be great. I think he has the mindset to be great, and I promise you schematically we're going to give him every chance to do that."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Aiyuk will join Deebo Samuel and George Kittle to give Shanahan three pass-catchers who excel at making people miss with the ball in their hands.

Samuel had a good rookie season and now is primed for a big sophomore campaign with Aiyuk in the fold. The South Carolina product hauled in 57 catches for 802 yards and three touchdowns and the sky is the limit for him in Shanahan's offense.

Aiyuk has an 81-inch wingspan and is a lot faster than the 4.5 40-yard-dash time he clocked at the NFL Scouting Combine. He was labored by a core muscle injury, but the 49ers have seen the tape and know his game speed can rival almost anyone in football. That's why they traded up to get him, risking their future trade for Trent Williams in the process. They believe Aiyuk's ability to stretch the field vertically and make people miss with the ball in his hands will make what was one of the NFL's best offenses even more potent.

[RELATED: Aiyuk's quiet confidence is a game-changer]

Sanders played a key role in the 49ers' run to Super Bowl LIV. He helped mentor a young receiving corps, blocked in the run game and became a favored target of Jimmy Garoppolo.

Those are big shoes for Aiyuk to fill, but Shanahan believes he's up to the challenge.

49ers' George Kittle falls short of 99 Madden 21 rating according to leak

49ers' George Kittle falls short of 99 Madden 21 rating according to leak

George Kittle is the best tight end in football, and arguably the best receiver regardless of position. Full stop.

But while the 49ers tight end has become a household name during his three-year NFL career, it appears his exploits haven't been enough to get him into a very select group: The "Madden 99 Club."

Details from Madden 21 slowly have been trickling out, and a potential leak by Twitter user "LeadingNFL" showed which players have been given a 99 overall rating in the latest iteration of the popular video game. While Patrick Mahomes, Christian McCaffrey, Aaron Donald and Stephon Gilmore all got the nod, Kittle came up just short in his quest for video-game greatness.

For 49ers fans who care about such things, this should be seen as disrespectful to the league's premier tight end. While Kittle is grouped with star receivers Michael Thomas and De'Andre Hopkins, a case can be made that Kittle deserves to be a member of the "Madden 99 Club," because of his ability to break tackles and his dominant ability as a run-blocker.

You'll find no arguments from me on any of the four members of the "Madden 99 Club."

Mahomes cemented himself as the best quarterback in the NFL when he erased a 10-point deficit against Kittle and the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. He's an unquestioned 99. As is Donald.

Gilmore was the best cornerback in football last season, and has been as dominant as they come since joining the New England Patriots. McCaffrey put up a tremendous season in 2019 despite being saddled with below-average quarterback play for the entire season. He's as elite a weapon as the NFL has to offer.

[RELATED: Kittle questions social distancing in 2020 NFL]

But Kittle belongs in that conversation. He caught 85 passes for 1,053 yards and five touchdowns last season, and his catch-and-run against the New Orleans Saints was the type of memorable play that soon won't be forgotten.

Kittle, who is trying to work out a contract extension with the 49ers, is in good company with Thomas and Hopkins. Those two, along with Julio Jones, are the three best receivers in the NFL, and Kittle certainly belongs on their level.

It's hard to break into the "Madden 99 Club." Perhaps one more season of dominance will get Kittle the point he needs to join video game immortality.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Ex-49ers teammate explains why Colin Kaepernick fits in today's NFL

Ex-49ers teammate explains why Colin Kaepernick fits in today's NFL

Around the NFL, every team is looking for the next Patrick Mahomes. The next Lamar Jackson, the next Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson. 

The 49ers had exactly that in Colin Kaepernick, a game-changing dual-threat quarterback.

Seven-year pro Michael Thomas saw that firsthand back in 2012, the first year Kaepernick took over for Alex Smith as the 49ers' starting QB and led them to the Super Bowl. Thomas was a safety on the San Francisco's practice squad that year before carving out a role with the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants. He even made the Pro Bowl in 2018. 

And Thomas finds it unexplainable how NFL teams aren't fighting to get Kaepernick's skill set on the field. 

"He’s the type of quarterback that today’s NFL is built for," Thomas wrote as the guest writer for NBC Sports' Peter King's "Football Morning in America" column. "It’s built for the mobile quarterback, it’s built for the quarterback who can run but also throw. He’s that dual-threat option. He’s mobile, and he has a big arm that can hit the deep threat. He causes confusion for defenses if he gets into any kind of zone-read option. And obviously the RPO game is bigger than ever.

"Set aside for a second what the league would gain in terms of credibility by bringing him back. From a pure football standpoint, his style fits the league perfectly."

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Over his six-year career, five as a starter, Kaepernick has totaled 12,271 passing yards and 72 touchdowns through the air. He also has 2,300 career rushing yards and another 13 TDs. 

But Kaepernick hasn't played in the NFL since 2016, the same year he began first sitting then kneeling during the national anthem as a peaceful protest against racial and social injustices. Thomas, as a member of the Dolphins, played against Kaepernick that season and the QB was dominant. 

The less talented 49ers lost 31-24 in Miami, but Kaepernick's ability as a passer and runner were on full display. He completed 29 of 46 pass attempts for 296 yards, three touchdowns and was intercepted once. He also rushed 10 times for 113 yards, his last game with at least 100 yards rushing. 

[RELATED: These Montana highlights show 1989 playoff dominance]

The 49ers were just 1-9 going into the game against the 6-4 Dolphins. Kaepernick was tackled at the 2-yard line to end the game, just falling short of completely putting the team on his back in a rough road environment.

That also was nearly four years ago. There are no guarantees Kaepernick plays another game of football in his life. To Thomas, that's baffling, and understandably so.