Three years ago, Brandon Aiyuk played for a junior college in Rocklin, California. Now he’s a starting wide receiver for the 49ers.
Here are five things you need to know about Aiyuk.
1. Aiyuk played running back as a kid.
When Aiyuk has the ball in his hands, he moves like a running back, because he was a running back before he became a wide receiver.
Aiyuk told reporters on a video conference that he grew up playing running back, and uses those running-back skills when he plays wide receiver or returns punt or kickoffs.
Aiyuk is a versatile player who plays every position as if he’s a running back, but he’s not a running back anymore. Meaning he’s similar to Deebo Samuel.
2. Aiyuk played only one year of high school football.
He started playing high school football as a senior, so he didn’t receive any scholarship offers. And he played mostly defensive back and returned punts and kickoffs in high school. He caught just a few passes as a wide receiver.
Meaning Aiyuk is a phenomenal athlete who lacks experience playing his professional position.
3. Aiyuk played at Sierra College in Rocklin.
The coaching staff at Sierra College saw Aiyuk’s high school tape and recruited him to play wide receiver. Good decision. Aiyuk became a monster receiver for Sierra College in Rocklin, which is where the 49ers held training camp from 1981 to 1997.
Aiyuk has the 49ers in his blood.
4. Aiyuk was a one-year starter at Arizona State.
Aiyuk transferred to Arizona State and mostly came off the bench his first season in Tempe. He backed up N’Keal Harry, whom the Patriots drafted in the first round of the 2019 draft.
During Aiyuk’s second season in Tempe, he replaced Harry in the starting lineup and played extremely well. That’s why the 49ers drafted Aiyuk in Round 1.
But Aiyuk started only 15 games at Arizona State, which is in the PAC 12, which is like Double-A baseball compared to big leagues. He’s not the same as Deebo Samuel, who was a three-year starter in the SEC, which is the college conference most like the NFL.
Aiyuk might not contribute right away. He’s a project. He has been a wide receiver for just four years. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
5. Aiyuk’s pro comparison.
Aiyuk’s combination of arm length, body control and ability to gain yards after the catch made him a first-round pick. Hakeem Nicks had a similar combination of traits when the Giants made him a late first-round pick in 2009.
Nicks was a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver in 2010 and 2011. He was a big-play guy who also routinely made leaping, twisting catches over the middle and made Eli Manning look better than he was.
Foot and knee injuries affected Nicks’ career, but he was good when he was young. Aiyuk can become just like Nicks or better if he reaches his full potential.