When Brandon Aiyuk struggled to make an impact in the first half of his sophomoric season, worries that he fell in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse arose.
Shanahan explained that this was not about being in his doghouse, but rather getting up to speed in practice. As the 49ers spent a first round pick on Aiyuk the previous draft, the presence of Dante Pettis’ fallout echoed throughout the Bay Area.
That’s when Brandon Aiyuk made it clear: He would not be another Dante Pettis.
In his last 10 games Aiyuk posted 685 receiving yards on 43 receptions, giving him an average of 15.9 yards per reception. He established himself as the team’s third receiving option between George Kittle and Deebo Samuel, who each had monster years.
On any other team Aiyuk would likely be the 2nd go-to at worst. On the 49ers he’s behind two of the very best at their respective positions. And the recent hype behind him backs it up.
Reminder that in this house we still firmly believe in Brandon Aiyuk's ability.
Think he could be one of the big winners in the switch from Jimmy to Lance.
Full 2021 #ReceptionPerception profile:https://t.co/o9PU1p4RII pic.twitter.com/ZCLdRY8DHN
— Matt Harmon (@MattHarmon_BYB) July 28, 2022
So what’s made the sailors of the bay warn that a storm by the hands of Aiyuk is on its way? There’s only one way to find out, and it’s through the eyes of the film.
Shanahan receivers often find themselves pigeonholed, seen as players schemed open to do the dirty work after the catch. It works because of the speed and agility of those that have worn the Scarlet and Gold.
This is all to say that Aiyuk is more than a YAC heavy merchant, however.
Take this route in week three against the Packers for instance. After a few steps Aiyuk stutters, fakes the slant, cuts out, then curls back in. It’s one of the best looking routes I’ve seen from the 2021 season, all done so snappy to result in the score.
Though less successful, the error of this play cannot fall on the shoulders of Aiyuk.
Aiyuk baits Trevon Diggs into a slant with a well-executed head fake, cutting back outside for the corner route. Sadly, Jimmy Garoppolo misses the wide open throw from a clean pocket, preventing the ultimate cap off.
Aiyuk’s footwork is sharp and gets to the point. On plays like this, it helps him get an instance release off the snap by creating the space necessary for inside or outside leverage.
This time it’s Aiyuk that can’t come down with the completion in bounds, but his separation is still apparent.
Next, let’s look at one particular route No. 11 runs a lot. I’ll give you a hint, it’s a route Michael Thomas is fond of.
Aiyuk’s jerky, twitchy route breaks make hm the perfect slant weapon. Thanks to a violently quick hip turn, he’s able to use subtle cuts to break more upfield diagonally on this play.
Once again the slippery, instant release of the line of scrimmage shows up in Aiyuk’s slants. On this slant he runs slightly inside, then switches slightly outside, establishing the eventual cushion on the slant break.
Yards After The Catch
Where would a Shanahan receiver be without freakish ability after the catch?
From George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, and Aiyuk himself, the 49ers have never been short of YAC producing demons in the Shanahan era. The best YAC receivers play with a sixth sense, with the ability to see behind their backs.
That’s why Aiyuk’s approach at and after the catch point here is so good. As soon as he’s about to land his gloves on the ball, he turns his hips, plants his left foot to the ground, and takes off for YAC.
Even if Aiyuk can’t get open right away, he’ll do so on the second effort. In the middle of his YAC efforts here, he slows down and cuts outside with an impressive juke (0:09 mark). That’s one way to keep you out of the doghouse.
Continuing in Aiyuk’s ability after the catch, he plays tough even though he’s just 6’0 and 200 lb. He sheds through tackles like the toughest of tight ends, using a head full of steam that makes him impossible to bring down at contact.
Aiyuk’s pad level protects him at the contact point, giving him an edge that makes him as dynamic after the catch as he is before. This cartoonish spin for a log gain against the Texans shows his ability to absorb hits perfectly.
Brandon Aiyuk is due for a breakout year, even behind two blockbuster talents. He’s shown expertise against press coverage, has great hands in closing windows, and plays tougher than his size, absorbing a number of tackles.
A problem against press and a nuisance after the catch, Aiyuk’s twitchy, explosive style of play has made him a favorite in the Bay Area and beyond. From out of the doghouse, he’s become all bark and all bite.
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