McQueen High graduate Brandon Aiyuk believes being drafted by San Francisco in the first round of Thursday's NFL draft was predestined.
After being selected by the 49ers with the No. 25 pick of the draft, Aiyuk posted a picture of himself as a 4-year-old wearing a 49ers turtleneck. While the story is cool, a Reno kid growing up to play for his favorite team in the nearby Bay Area, Aiyuk couldn't have landed in a better spot in terms of fit.
Aiyuk, who became the second Northern Nevada high school player to become a first-round NFL draft pick, is set up for success by going to San Francisco. Let us count the ways.
* The 49ers are thinner at wide receiver than Kate Moss in the 1990s. San Francisco only has two returning receivers who caught more than 12 receptions last season, those players being Deebo Samuel, who had 57 receptions as a rookie, and Kendrick Bourne, who had 30 catches. The 49ers run a lot of "11" personnel with three receivers on the field, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see Aiyuk become a starter as a rookie just as Samuel did last season. His position versatility -- Aiyuk can play inside or outside -- will help get him on the field.
* 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is the best offensive mind in the NFL and routinely schemes pass-catchers into wide-open spaces, making the game just about as easy for Jimmy Garoppolo as it can be for a quarterback. Aiyuk is a player who thrives in space. His 18.34 yards per catch were the 10th most in the NCAA last year among receivers with at least 1,000 receiving yards. He's an explosive player and good route runner who Shanahan will scheme into air where one of his biggest skills (his ability to get yards after catch) will play up.
* San Francisco's buy-in on Aiyuk also is huge. The 49ers entered the draft with only two picks in the first 150 selections and didn't have a second-, third- or fourth-round pick. It made sense for the 49ers to trade back to get more draft capital, and they did move back one slot with their initial first-round pick. But they then traded up and gave up capital to get Aiyuk. When a team trades up to get you, they're even more invested, so they're going to give you a longer leash for success. Shanahan raved about Aiyuk in the post-draft teleconference.
"I think Brandon would have been great whatever team he went to," Shanahan said. "And I'm so excited to have a guy like that because I think we can use him anyway we want. And I think he's capable of doing everything from an athletic standpoint. And I think he has the mentality from a toughest standpoint in terms of the contact of the game and also in terms of this guy is just not happy with today. This guy wants to be great. I want someone like that. And I think he has the tools to be great. I think he has the mindset to be great and I promise you schematically we're going to give him every chance to do that."
* The 49ers were good in almost every facet of the game last season, but one area they were not good was kickoff return where San Francisco ranked 27th out of 32 teams in the NFL with an average return of 20.5 yards. The team's 409 kickoff return yards ranked 28th in the NFL. They were better on punt return, averaging 8.0 yards per return (ninth in the NFL), but had only one return of at least 20 yards. Aiyuk was a dynamic kick and punt returner in college and should be given a chance to take that job from Richie James with the 49ers.
* We have to mention the geography, too. Being close to home is usually a good thing, and Aiyuk's parents can drive from Reno watch all of their son's home games in Santa Clara, which has to be a comforting feeling. It's never easy making the transition from college to the pros where things become a cut-throat business, but being close to home can't hurt in Aiyuk's case.
A player's success in the NFL often comes down to fit. With the 49ers, Aiyuk has a perfect one as he's entering an ascending franchise with a good culture on a team as likely as any other to win this year's Super Bowl. Shanahan likes to draft receivers. Aiyuk is the sixth the 49ers have picked in Shanahan and general manager John Lynch's three drafts plus one round, a list that includes Trent Taylor, Dante Pettis, Richie James, Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd. Only Samuel has truly panned out of that group, but Aiyuk has the skills to thrive in San Francisco.
"He was my favorite receiver I evaluated," Shanahan said of the deep 2020 receiver class. "There is no doubt on that."