Why Kyle Shanahan had to have Brandon Aiyuk

When Shanahan falls for a player, he falls hard, like most high-school crushes.
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Trading up from pick 31 to pick 25 for Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk revealed just how much 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan fell in love with him.

He just had to have Aiyuk in his ranks. The question is why? 

The 2020 wide receiver draft class was stacked. Aiyuk likely would have still been there at pick 31. If not, the 49ers could have easily gone for Michael Pittman Jr. out of USC. The fact is that there were plenty of quality talents the 49ers could have gone after instead of trading up.

But Shanahan just had to get his guy. So what made Aiyuk so alluring?

Draft experts will have you believe that there were only three immediate-impact receiver prospects. CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, and Henry Ruggs III were the most popular prospects. However, there wasn't an enormous disparity between them and the next few receivers.

Aiyuk is a receiver who can come in and put up numbers for the 49ers. But that isn't why the 49ers and Shanahan loved him. If that were the case, they would have just taken Lamb when they had the chance. They took Aiyuk because he fits the current mold of the receivers on the roster.

"He can play the X, he can play the Z, he can play the F," Shanahan said following day one of the NFL Draft. "He's got the speed to get on top. He's got the quickness to play in the slot. He's got the toughness to go over in the middle. And the guy is just completely committed to being as good as God ever intended him to be."

You could swear he was talking about Deebo Samuel again. 

Almost every wideout on the 49ers excels with the ball in his hands and can play in any spot in the formation. That is Shanahan's philosophy, to have a plethora of players that are interchangeable. That keeps a defense on its heels, because it must be ready for anything.

The offense becomes less predictable, because the defense doesn't know who will operate from the slot, what route will be ran, or if the play call is just one big trick. With Aiyuk, the 49ers have someone that allows them to keep their current offense in place without making any alterations or adjustments. That is what made the 49ers trade up for Aiyuk. They would not have had a similar player fall to them if he was off the board by pick 31.

Had they taken a player like Ruggs, they would have needed to implement some more deep pass plays. It would have been a solid wrinkle to add to expand the playbook, but considering how great the offense was last season, it doesn't make much sense to do so. 

Besides, deep explosive pass plays aren't really a staple in Shanahan's offense, nor are they a strength of Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Aiyuk should be able to come in and easily replicate the production that Emmanuel Sanders had last season. In fact, he should be able to put up even better numbers, because he actually will have a full season, not to mention the attraction George Kittle and Samuel will garner, which will allow Aiyuk to feast on lesser competition. 

When Shanahan falls for a player, he falls hard, like most high-school crushes. Except Shanahan tends to feel that way every year, which doesn't always benefit the team. His infatuation with Dante Pettis is a perfect example. 

With Aiyuk, Shanahan has hit the nail on the head.