With COVID-19 essentially stripping teams of any offseason workouts, many believe the 2020 rookie class will start slow as they didn’t have minicamp or OTAs to adjust to the speed of the NFL. These guys have been playing football all of their life, but not as a full-time job. It’s impossible to prepare for the amount of preparation it takes to be great in the NFL until you are around someone that’s been there.
The San Francisco 49ers have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, so the transition for Javon Kinlaw and Brandon Aiyuk should be smoother as they won’t face the same pressure as other rookies drafted at their position. Aiyuk not only has the best play-caller in the NFL but the best tight end and an emerging star in Deebo Samuel. He’s not facing the same pressure as other first-round receivers like Henry Ruggs, who the Raiders will rely on to be their top target. Any defensive lineman the 49ers drafted was going to be at an advantage. San Francisco drafted the best interior defensive lineman in the draft. Both Kinlaw and Aiyuk are going to produce as rookies, but who is facing more pressure?
Aiyuk feels like an easy answer as there are more question marks at receiver. After Deebo, there is Kendrick Bourne. After that? A whole lot of talent that doesn’t come without an asterisk. The 49ers will require more out of Aiyuk early on than Kinlaw. Aiyuk will likely start opposite of Samuel and play the second-most receiver snaps by the end of the season. The sheer volume will put more pressure on the former Arizona State standout.
Kinlaw may not play as often as DeForest Buckner did, but that won’t prevent him from being one of the team leaders in snap counts on defense. Both players are replacing players that are borderline irreplaceable from last year’s team, but Buckner was the anchor up the middle and the leader on the line. Leadership duties won’t fall on Kinlaw, but a good chunk of Buck’s production will. Is that fair? Nope. It’s the reality, though. When you take a player in the top-15, there is pressure on him to produce. Some of you may answer Kinlaw as he was the higher draft pick.
I’ll be curious to see how the answers turn out. Does Aiyuk have less pressure with Kyle Shanahan calling the plays? Or will the question marks at wide receiver and the Niners trading up to acquire him sway your vote? Or is it as simple as Kinlaw was the higher draft pick, and he’s replacing the more critical player to the defense?