NFL Draft 2020: Why Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers' offense are perfect fit

NFL Draft 2020: Why Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers' offense are perfect fit

Coach Kyle Shanahan works hard to design schemes on offense to stress the rules of the defense.

The goal is that is opens the field up for his receivers and allows them to turn short and intermediate routes into big gains after the catch.

On Thursday, the 49ers moved up six spots to No. 25 overall in a trade with the Minnesota Vikings to select Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.

He is a yards-after-the-catch machine. Aiyuk (pronounced Eye-yook) averaged 18.3 yards per reception last season, and more than 11 of those yards came after the catch. He also offers the 49ers some options in the return game with his skills on punts and kickoffs.

Aiyuk (5-foot-11 5/8, 205 pounds) ran the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine while also battling a core muscle injury that required surgery this month. He should be ready to go when the 49ers open training camp.

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He was only a one-year starter at Arizona State after transferring from Sierra College in Rocklin – the site of the 49ers’ old summer home for training camp during their five Super Bowl titles. He played behind N’Keal Harry, a first-round pick of the New England Patriots last year.

The 49ers did not bite at wide receiver earlier in the first round when they could have selected Jerry Jeudy or CeeDee Lamb. The 49ers spent their first draft pick of the day on South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.

Instead, they waited until five receivers flew off the board to guarantee they would get one of their top targets.

Now, the 49ers expect Aiyuk to be a top target of Jimmy Garoppolo in the 49ers’ passing game.

At the end of last season, Shanahan had confidence in only Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel and Kendrick Bourne. Sanders moved on to the New Orleans Saints as a free agent.

As much as the 49ers hope Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd will be healthy and take on big roles in the offense, the 49ers had to make a move to take advantage of a deep-and-talented draft class. Aiyuk should be able to carve out a role in the offense from Day 1.

[RELATED: Grading 49ers' Aiyuk draft pick]

But he has some work to do to unseat Bourne, who has gotten more reliable through his three seasons with the club.

The 49ers do not need Aiyuk to play every down, like Sanders. But they need him to step in and fill a critical part of the offense to give Shanahan and Garoppolo another wide receiver they both can trust.

How Jerick McKinnon impacts 49ers' negotiations with Raheem Mostert

How Jerick McKinnon impacts 49ers' negotiations with Raheem Mostert

49ers running back Raheem Mostert wants a raise or to be traded. The problem for him is, he doesn't really have any leverage. Regardless of what he deserves, that's just the reality of the situation.

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan favors a running back-by-committee approach. He will be able to employ that, regardless of whether or not Mostert wants to be a part of it. The 49ers have ample depth at the position, even after trading Matt Breida earlier in the offseason.

Tevin Coleman isn't going anywhere. Cutting him would result in a $2 million dead cap hit, and San Francisco can't afford to waste cap space at the moment.

Jeff Wilson scored five touchdowns on 30 total touches last season. He seemed to make a play whenever given an opportunity, and the coaching staff has plenty of faith in him.

The 49ers also signed undrafted free agents JaMycal Hasty and Salvon Ahmed, who originally might have been ticketed for the practice squad, but there's a reason why San Francisco pursued them. Shanahan has a long track record of creating productive rushers out of thin air, and Mostert's performance last season only backs that up.

But there's one major wild card in San Francisco's backfield: Jerick McKinnon.

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Having signed a four-year, $30 million contract with the 49ers on the opening day of free agency in 2018, McKinnon was hand-picked by Shanahan to transform San Francisco's offense. Though never a bell cow, he offered the speed and matchup versatility that Shanahan covets. McKinnon rushed for 570 yards and hauled in 51 receptions for another 421 yards in his final season before joining the 49ers, and in Shanahan's system, the possibilities were endless.

And then, all dreams were dashed.

McKinnon tore his ACL one week before the start of the 2018 season, and then sat out the entirety of the 2019 campaign after requiring additional surgery. After not stepping foot on the field in a single game over his first two seasons with the franchise, McKinnon agreed to a pay reduction for the 2020 season that will see him make $910,000 in base salary, a sign of his commitment to the team. He was scheduled to make $6.8 million in 2020 prior to the restructuring.

Given his injury history, the 49ers would be wise to be cautious with their dependence on him. That said, he has had nearly a full year to recover from the most recent surgery, and last month his trainer said McKinnon is "in the best shape of his life."

He had been working with Rischad "Footwork King" Whitfield, and on Wednesday, McKinnon posted more workout videos to his Instagram Story.

The 49ers are optimistic they'll finally be able to unleash McKinnon this coming season, with Mostert recently going so far as to predict that McKinnon will "surprise people." If he's healthy, there's no doubt Shanahan will be itching to involve him in the offense, creating yet another potential matchup nightmare for the opposing defense. Plenty can happen between now and then, but San Francisco has to be feeling good about the progress "Jet" has put on tape.

[RELATED: How Mostert's 49ers trade demand shows price of success]

If the 49ers go into the season feeling like they can count on McKinnon, Mostert inevitably will get fewer touches. There are only so many to go around, especially with receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd liable to take a few of their own. Mostert rightfully feels like he deserves a significant raise, but that's under the assumption he is going to be the lead back in Shanahan's system.

That might still be the case, regardless of McKinnon's status. But the 49ers haven't forgotten about McKinnon, and until they do, the odds are against Mostert getting what he wants.

What Raheem Mostert's agent says client wants in 49ers trade demand

What Raheem Mostert's agent says client wants in 49ers trade demand

49ers running back Raheem Mostert's trade demand carries another motive, according to his agent.

Within an hour of announcing Mostert's trade demand Wednesday, Brett Tessler told NFL Media's Ian Rapoport that Mostert "simply" wants his salary "in line" with teammate Tevin Coleman's.

Coleman's $4.55 million base salary is nearly $2 million more than Mostert's $2.575 million, according to Over the Cap. Mostert's salary is not guaranteed, whereas $2 million of Coleman's became guaranteed on April 1. Coleman can earn nearly $4.9 million after workout and roster bonuses, and Mostert can make up to $2.825 million if he hits all his roster bonuses.

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Mostert (151) and Coleman (158) had nearly the same number of total touches during the regular season, with each player rushing an identical 137 times. But Mostert led the team in regular-season rushing yards (772) and rushing touchdowns (eight), becoming the 49ers' top back down the stretch and having over twice as many carries (117) and touches (126) as Coleman (55; 58) from Week 13 onward.

Prior to that stretch, Mostert had 113 rushing attempts and 127 touches in the preceding 31 games. Coleman, meanwhile, signed with the 49ers as a free agent in 2019 after averaging 165.5 touches per season in four years with the Atlanta Falcons.

[RELATED: How Mostert's 49ers trade demand shows price of success]

Whether the 49ers meet either of Mostert's demands remains to be seen.

He still has two years left on his contract (including 2020), and the 49ers currently have the NFL's eighth-highest salary-cap number on running backs. San Francisco has just over $12 million in salary-cap space, but that number conceivably could diminish if star tight end George Kittle's contract extension includes a reworked 2020 cap number.

Kittle's set to count just over $2.2 million against the cap this season. Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, who has the NFL's highest cap number at the position, counts just shy of $12.5 million against the cap.