Going into the 2020 NFL Draft, many experts gave the 49ers either CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy or Henry Ruggs in their mock draft. Kyle Shanahan certainly was impressed by Lamb, but another receiver caught his eye: Arizona State's Brandon Aiyuk.
The 49ers traded up in the first round of the draft to take Aiyuk at No. 25 overall, but they seriously contemplated taking the wideout as high as No. 13 when they originally were on the clock with their top pick in the first round. Coach Kyle Shanahan loved what he saw from Aiyuk on tape, and a first-round pick comes with high expectations.
But could Aiyuk struggle to find targets from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo as a rookie? That very well could happen, especially early on.
Pro Football Focus ranked 10 rookie receivers' situations -- not talent -- for the 2020 season and Aiyuk was at the very bottom. Again, this doesn't have to do with the ASU product's talent. It more has to do with receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle.
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"Those two accounted for just over 40 percent of the 49ers' targets in 2019 and should only rise with Samuel in Year 2," PFF's Michael Renner wrote. "Aiyuk’s limited route tree at Arizona State could come into play, too, as the 49ers' offense doesn’t feature a ton of simplistic routes.
"In fact, their receivers had the fewest yards (529) of any group on screens, hitches, go’s, and crossers last year."
In Herm Edwards' college offense, Aiyuk thrived taking screens to the house. He had the eighth-most screen yards in the country last season.
Brandon Aiyuk takes the bubble screen 77 yards to the house for six. The Sun Devils lead 27-0 at the end of three quarters. That’s the longest touchdown reception of Aiyuk’s ASU career. pic.twitter.com/kP9bZUAjB4— Cronkite Sports (@CronkiteSports) August 30, 2019
Shanahan has an incredibly complex offense. There always are moving parts and his play calls can sound like another language. Aiyuk is at an unprecedented disadvantage being away from the field right now due to the coronavirus and not learning the offense on the go.
And then there's the 49ers' logjam in the receivers room. Kittle once again will be Garoppolo's top target, however, there's some serious competition on the outside.
Samuel, who has offered a helping hand to Aiyuk, could turn into a star in his second pro season and should demand a boatload of targets this year. Kendrick Bourne continues to defy the odds and led the 49ers in touchdown receptions last year. General manager John Lynch still has high hopes for Dante Pettis and the return of two injured players -- Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd -- could be huge keys to this offense's success.
Aiyuk certainly is confident in himself and it helps having Samuel wanting to lead the way. Samuel should know firsthand how tough this offense is, though. His numbers took off in the second half of his rookie year after a bit of a slow start.
Can Aiyuk get off the ground running? He has the talent, but also must be able to clear some tough hurdles and push some more experienced players to the side.