Brandon Aiyuk didn’t have a long track record of success. He wasn’t as acclaimed as other wide receivers going into Thursday’s first round of the NFL draft.
But Aiyuk was the man the 49ers wanted.
Aiyuk, who played the past two seasons at Arizona State after two years of community college football, was selected by the Niners Thursday night with the 25th choice, after San Francisco moved up from No. 31 in a trade with Minnesota.
The 49ers could have taken more acclaimed receivers – Jerry Jeudy of Alabama or CeeDee Lamb of Oklahoma -- with their top pick, No. 13. Instead, they moved down to No. 14 in a trade, selected defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw of South Carolina, then made their second trade to get Aiyuk.
Aiyuk, 6 feet and 205 pounds, played just 25 games of Division I college ball, and his junior season at ASU wasn’t extraordinary. In 13 games he had 33 catches for 474 yards and three touchdowns. But as a senior in 12 games, he had 65 catches for 1,192 yards – and 18.3-yard per-catch average – and eight TDs.
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan said general manager John Lynch and the scouting staff have believed for quite a while that Aiyuk was among the nation’s elite receivers. And, Shanahan says Aiyuk can play all three wideout spots.
“He’s got the speed to get on top,” Shanahan told reporters. “He’s got the quickness to play in the slot. He’s got the toughness to go over the middle. And the guy is just completely committed to me to being as good as God ever intended him to be.”
Aiyuk – if he lives up to his potential – could give the 49ers a dynamic pair of young wideouts, along with Deebo Samuel, a second-rounder from 2019 who flourished as a rookie. Aiyuk has tremendous speed and can break tackles, which also helped him average 16.1 yards on punt returns and 31.9 yards on kick returns. Once he gets the ball, he’s a playmaker.
Said analyst Lance Zierlein of NFL.com: “He needs more polish, but his ability to create yards after catch could get him some early reps while he’s still developing.”
Wrote Pete Prisco of CBS Sports: “In this offense, he’s going to be phenomenal. He’s only scratching the surface. When he catches the ball, boom, he’s gone.”
The NFL draft continues Friday and Saturday. The team’s next scheduled selection comes in the fifth round.