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The Shanaplan: Will Brandon Aiyuk take the next step in Year 3?

Early returns are positive...

NFC Championship - San Francisco 49ers v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

During today’s episode of The Shanaplan, we ran down which 49er players were present at minicamp, Kyle Shanahan’s relationship with Deebo Samuel, and more.

Jauan Jennings and Brandon Aiyuk received praise for Shanahan Tuesday:

“I’m extremely confident in Jauan. I think if anyone watched our games at the end of last year, not many people covered him. He got open, he had aggressive hands, he got up the field, he blocked well. Jauan was a guy we had a lot of hope for coming into stuff.

He had some setbacks with injuries, but once he got healthy and he got his opportunity when Mo [former WR Mohamed Sanu Sr.] went down last year he took off. And this offseason, him and [WR Brandon Aiyuk] B.A., the first day they got here they’ve had as good of an offseason as they’ve had since they got in the league. And they’re as good as they’ve been right now, both of them.”

On Jennings:

“It’s all how you use it. He does have a bigger body, but he plays big. He’s fearless going over the middle, but that doesn’t matter if you can’t separate. And what’s cool about Jauan, he’s got some unique running styles, but just watch him, he separates more than probably all the other guys.”

Saying Jennings separates better than Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel and everyone else is certainly a statement. Shanahan has a way of challenging Aiyuk through the media, and this feels like another example.

To Jennings’ credit, he’s made plays in practice. Jennings beat Darqueze Dennard for a touchdown at practice Tuesday. He’s taking advantage of his opportunities and picking up where he left off.

Is this the year Aiyuk puts it all together? It feels like the season where we go, “oh, that’s why they traded up for him in the first round.” Not all receivers, or players in general, click in Year 1 or 2.

In Aiyuk’s case, his growth off the field should help him on it. Shanahan doesn’t tend to praise players often, so Tuesday’s words shouldn’t go unnoticed. A part of that growth is leadership.

Shanahan spoke about Aiyuk’s leadership Tuesday:

“I have. I’ve seen it by those two very strongly just and how they’ve been to each other here. I think them both being in the league for two years and going through that, it’s also different, I didn’t realize until you get with some of these guys, like none of these guys really had offseasons. Their first offseason was COVID. There was none. The second one was a half COVID offseason where we had like, I think we had four days before OTAs and then it was so much shorter.

And so no one really knows who’ve been here for two or three years. And those guys to come in this year, to come in at the beginning this is by far the best I’ve seen them at this time. And I think that’s allowed them to be leaders. They knew what they were doing. They were in shape. They’re able to talk to other guys. I know how much they went into training camp or the season a little unprepared just from lacking experience. And you can see that experience that’s led them to prepare this offseason so much better. And that’s why their game’s a lot better. And it’s cool for other guys to see that.”

We’re seeing Aiyuk’s mentality change before us. Shanahan walked us through his first couple of seasons and the difficulties Aiyuk and the team faced with COVID.

Aiyuk’s strengths are winning outside of the numbers and down the field. Now that he has a quarterback that aligns with his strengths, it’s not difficult to imagine the third-year wideout coming into his own in 2022.