The Strengths and Weaknesses of Brandon Aiyuk

Grant Cohn

The past few weeks, I’ve watched lots of coaches tape of the 49ers’ rookies, and developed an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

Here are the strengths and weaknesses of wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, the 49ers’ first-round draft pick.


Aiyuk is a great athlete.

He’s similar to Deebo Samuel, but even more athletic. Aiyuk is fast like Samuel, strong like Samuel, tough like Samuel, totally unafraid of contact and pain. But a couple things differentiate those two.

First, Aiyuk has extremely long arms, which make him a good complement for Samuel, because Samuel has short arms. The 49ers need a long-armed wide receiver who can catch the occasional inaccurate pass.

Second -- and this one is subtle, but it differentiates Aiyuk from most athletes -- he’s explosive off either leg. Meaning he can jump and cut equally well off his left and right leg. Most people can’t. You probably can’t. Go in your driveway right now and try to dunk or lay up a basketball. You probably will jump off the same leg every time.

Aiyuk could be a triple jumper -- those guys who hop, skip and jump off either leg. That’s why he’s such a special punt returner and kickoff returner. He can string cuts together one after another -- left leg, right leg, left leg, like he’s skiing.

His unique ability to explode off either leg will allow him to become a special split end, which is the deep threat, the guy who runs double moves -- slant and Go’s. Post-corners. Extremely difficult routes most professional receivers don’t run well. Aiyuk will create big-time separation in the NFL.

That’s why Kyle Shanahan compared him to Dante Pettis, another guy who can cut off either leg. But Aiyuk is so much stronger and tougher than Pettis. Aiyuk should be a much better player than Pettis.


Aiyuk is not a great wide receiver yet.

Sure, he’s a great athlete, but he didn’t become a full-time receiver until college, and didn’t become a full-time starter at Arizona State until last year.

And you can tell. Aiyuk struggles with the advanced aspects of playing wide receiver. He struggles to beat bump-and-run coverage because he didn’t face much in college, he doesn’t always adjust his route when the defense blitzes and he often double-catches balls, meaning he bobbles them before securing them. He’s still learning and gaining experience. He’s green.

And he faced mostly bad cornerbacks and defenses in the Pac 12. Last season when Aiyuk faced Utah and Cal, two good defenses, he caught one pass for seven yards and then two passes for 31 yards, respectively. Cal cornerback Camryn Bynum in particular gave Aiyuk problems.

Usually when teams scout a wide receiver, they watch him face an NFL cornerback and see who wins the matchup. The 49ers couldn’t do this with Aiyuk, because he didn’t face many NFL-caliber corners in the Pac-12. They drafted him based on his athleticism, what they think he can do. Not what he has done already. They made a projection. How many Pac-12-project wide receivers have become Pro Bowlers in the NFL the past 10 years?

Not many. Not Pettis, who went to Washington.

Aiyuk certainly has the tools to become excellent. Putting those tools together could take him a while.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

He won't be a major contributor until midway through season. Frankly, if we need him to be, we're probably in trouble. Meaning, we need Taylor, Hurd, and Bourn to take the game to the next level. Taylor just needs to stay healthy.