The historically overused “Defense Wins Championships” mantra may finally be taking it’s final resting place in 2020. Initiated by a Chiefs offensive onslaught in the 2019 season, and catalyzed by a wide receiver draft class with more depth than the league has seen in decades, the “Score First Ask Questions Later” mantra is quickly becoming a viable replacement. Even the most stubborn defensive minds are beginning to cave, realizing that the evolution of athletes, and rules, prevent them from reliving the ground and pound glory days of yesteryear. John Lynch is no exclusion to this movement. Trading up for a dynamic wide receiver, even with a need for defensive depth, is an ode to that progression. Brandon Aiyuk is a glimpse of what the future NFL is becoming. Let’s take a deeper look at why the 49ers have such high hopes for him.
— Brandon Aiyuk (@THE2ERA) April 24, 2020
It’s hard to decide what Aiyuk’s greatest attribute is. Some will say it’s his sneaky speed. Others will say it’s his ridiculous 81” wingspan, which is the same as Megatron. But if you ask the coaches and players that spent the most time with him over the past few seasons, they all have a very consistent answer: His quiet confidence. Brandon’s JuCo coach Ben Noonan of Sierra College had this to say about his former player, “He’s a grinder. His work ethic is off the charts, but he has incredible ability too. He’s quiet, but has the type of presence that people are attracted to.”
It is that work ethic that led the shifty WR from the bench as a Freshman at Sierra, to a two way starter by the end of the season. It is that same confidence that led him from the bench at Arizona State as a Junior, to a first round pick in this year’s draft. Coach Noonan also spoke about a fascinating story at the end of Aiyuk’s Sophomore season that is a fitting example of his character. In fear of overusing the talent at his disposal and affecting Brandon’s long term health, Noonan directed his Special Teams Coordinator to take him off of kick/punt returning duties. After this, Aiyuk did not speak to him for days, and when the coach finally brought it up, Brandon broke his silence to passionately explain his disapproval. “I can change the game with one return. I just need the ball.” This persuaded Noonan to go back on his decision, and he re-inserted Aiyuk into the lineup. The Silent Assassin responded with a kick return TD, and two punt return TDs that were called back for penalties. In a show of great leadership, Brandon also provided Noonan with the game ball following the performance, as the coach had been dealing with a tough family loss in the months leading up to the game.
After talking with former Bengals Head Coach, and current Arizona State Co-Defensive Coordinator, Marvin Lewis shared a very similar sentiment regarding Aiyuk’s confidence and extreme potential. “He’s very very confident in making big explosive plays, and he’s one of the guys we could count on to do that…Once he gets the ball in his hands, he’s hard to tackle. He’ll fit in with Kyle’s offense as they do such a great job running the football and they develop their play action.” Aiyuk has garnered comparisons from Isaac Bruce to Steve Smith. Those close to him don’t hesitate to set such a lofty bar, and that is because they know he can handle it. Highlight plays like this certainly help his case too.
Had Aiyuk been offered an opportunity to start more than one season at ASU, and had he not run an injury hindered 4.5 40 yard dash at the combine, he could have very well been the number one receiver taken in this highly praised draft. Instead of going to a rebuilding franchise desperate for an infusion of talent, he has landed in the perfect position for his unique skill set to be showcased and developed.
You might not hear a lot of talking from Brandon Aiyuk. You might not hear a lot of media hype about him either, and that’s the way he likes it. He is the silent cheat code, just waiting for his opportunity to break the game.