While NFL Draft pundits and fans alike can give instant reactions to their team's player selections, it's easy to forget that the true value of the picks cannot be fully assessed until after a couple of seasons. Some players become instant starters (Deebo Samuel) while others remain a work in progress (Solomon Thomas). Having said that, I want to pull out the receipts on what draft analysts were saying prior to the draft, along with their player comparisons. With the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft now in the books, let's review what various scouting outlets were saying about the 49ers' first-round picks. The San Francisco 49ers traded the 31st, 117th (Buccaneers), and 176th pick to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for the 26th pick to select Arizona State wide receiver, Brandon Aiuyuk.


NFL Player Comparison: Robert Woods, Emmanuel Sanders

Dane Brugler of The Athletic views Aiyuk as the 'definition of a playmaker' in his 2020 NFL Draft Guide:

Aiyuk is a "runway" athlete — if given any type of runway, he has the explosive gears and top-end speed to be a big-play threat, stretching simple slants into impact plays (averaged 11.1 yards after the catch in 2019). While he has a remarkable wingspan, his average play strength and continued maturation as a route runner are two areas where he needs to improve. Overall, the definition of a playmaker is a player who turns small plays into big plays and that is exactly what Aiyuk can do with his dynamic athleticism, projecting similar to Emmanuel Sanders (his skill set, role and impact) at the NFL level.

NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein sees Aiyuk as a 'natural pass-catcher':

Aiyuk has size, speed and is a natural pass-catcher who plays with good energy but he must improve physicality to handle contested catches. He can be slick and instinctive to separate out of stems and turns, but getting in and out of standard route breaks tends to limit his effectiveness. He needs more polish, but his ability to create yards after catch could get him some early reps while he's still developing. He has the potential to develop into a WR3.

ESPN Scout Inc.'s Draft profile of Aiyuk gave him a 90 grade as 'an above-average route runner with good burst':

He tracks the ball well and is fast enough to threaten vertically. He makes defenders miss and breaks tackles after the catch. He's an above-average route runner with good burst. He has the occasional drop, but he has very good body control. He flashes the ability to pluck the ball out of the air. He's got an outstanding catching radius for his frame and the position. A groin injury prevented him from participating at the Senior Bowl.

Danny Kelly of the Ringer thinks Aiyuk can 'find pay dirt every time he touches the ball':

Quick-twitch pass catcher with the potential to find pay dirt every time he touches the ball.

While 49ers fans, myself included, were hoping general manager John Lynch would pull the trigger on either CeeDee Lamb or Jerry Jeudy with the 13th pick, the 49ers instead get their guy with their other first-round pick in Aiyuk. Lynch mentioned that the Miami Dolphins were slated to nab Aiyuk the pick after at No. 26 so the 49ers decided to trade up to get their guy. It bodes well that NFL pundits compare Aiyuk to Sanders because the rookie must fill that void after losing Sander via free agency to the New Orleans Saints.

Personally, I view Aiyuk as a bit raw of a prospect; it will become increasingly difficult for him at the next level if our current COVID-19 situation continues to compromise the offseason. Wide receivers typically take longer to develop and losing out on invaluable reps might prove costly. Nonetheless, head coach Kyle Shanahan specifically wanted Aiyuk for his obvious ability to make plays after-the-catch in a similar mold to last year's rookie, Deebo Samuel. We'll see in time if their surprising trade-up was worth it--they enter the second day of the NFL draft with zero picks and currently don't make another selection until the fifth-round. Aiyuk certainly wasn't as touted in comparison to Henry Ruggs III but he actually led all receivers with a career 9.9 yards-after-the-catch.
  • Justin Wong
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    Justin Wong has been writing for the 49ers Webzone since 2017 while also running an NFC West blog and podcast called Just The West. Feel free to follow him, or direct any inquiries to @JustTheWest on Twitter.