49ers receiver Deebo Samuel was more of the exception than the rule. When it comes to rookie wide receivers in the NFL, you don't often see that kind of production.
Samuel hauled in 57 receptions for 802 yards and three touchdowns during his rookie regular season, and added another 159 yards and three scores on the ground. His 961 total yards from scrimmage ranked second on the team behind only All-Pro tight end George Kittle.
One possible explanation for Samuel's shallower learning curve could be the early exposure he had to the 49ers' offense and brain trust. San Francisco got the chance to see him up close and personal at the Senior Bowl, where the team apparently saw all it needed to make him a second-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Samuel then had the added benefit of learning on the job during OTAs.
Fast-forward a year, and the 49ers are hoping they've struck gold again. San Francisco traded up in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft to select receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who won't have all of the same benefits that Samuel had upon entering the league. With all team activities currently suspended due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there are no in-person OTAs to speak of. Instead, Aiyuk has to learn the playbook remotely.
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While that's certainly an inconvenience, Aiyuk's former junior college coach doesn't seem to think that will delay his mastery of Kyle Shanahan's offense.
"He's a one-time learner," Sierra College coach Ben Noonan told The Athletic's David Lombardi. "You tell him one time, one thing and you don't have to repeat yourself to him."
Aiyuk played for Noonan at Sierra College from 2016-17, where it took him three games into his freshman season to be named a starter. Despite dominating the competition during his time there, Aiyuk received only one Pac-12 scholarship offer -- from Arizona State -- so that's where he went.
Upon arriving in Tempe, Aiyuk had to play second-fiddle to New England Patriots receiver and 2019 first-round draft pick N'Keal Harry. Once he took over the No. 1 spot in the Sun Devils' offense, though, Aiyuk flourished and produced a 65-catch, 1,192-yard season. Charlie Fisher, who coached the receivers during Aiyuk's first season at Arizona State, acknowledges that Aiyuk has a tall task ahead of him, but is confident the dynamic receiver will be able to make an immediate impact for the 49ers -- much like Samuel did.
"The West Coast (offense) has had a reputation for verbiage going back to the Walsh years,” Fisher said. "When college receivers step into the NFL, there's more verbiage, more huddle, more variations in coverage. Brandon's well-prepared and he has seen a lot, but there's gonna be a curve.
"Only time will tell how fast. I know this: He's gonna help right away in the return game. He's gonna be a factor. I loved Deebo Samuel a year ago, who made a big jump in the second half. Every wideout is different, but Brandon's a good learner. As far as his ability, his want-to, his work ethic, you don’t have to worry about that."
Samuel far outperformed expectations as a rookie. Aiyuk isn't entering the exact same situation, but is definitely capable of making a similar impact.