In the first part of this series, we covered the strengths and weaknesses of the rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. Today, in the second part, we will see how he fits into the offense by examining his road tree in Arizona State.
As noted in the first part of this series, Shanahan said that it’s not just Aiyuk’s ability to create yards after capture (YAC) that has placed him at the top of their list of receivers. Shanahan also stated that he could travel all routes from any position, something that Shanahan highly appreciates when building his attack. On the one hand, this gives the offensive more flexibility and does not allow opposing teams to position themselves on certain route combinations if you have a group of personnel who can execute each route in the tree from all positions.
The Aiyuk to Arizona State route tree included a variety of routes from the slot and outside. In the first part, I showed him deep post routes, fast oblique / look at RPO routes, and he was also used on a number of screen passes. But Aiyuk is not limited to these routes. At Arizona State, he ran a number of deep routes, fades, juke routes, “buckling” and making contested captures, whether in the slot or outside.
Deep routes – Fade
Although it does not have the lightning speed you want in a deep threat, it can still effectively create a separation on fade routes due to what it does with its footwork and body control. Against the state of Michigan here, it runs a fade track against coverage. It threatens the interior leverage of the corner by passing its rod inside of him as if it were going to penetrate inside.
Instead, give a quick jab step inside before disappearing on the sidelines. The corner tries to initiate contact but avoids it with a nice arm before heading towards the touchline to catch the pass.
He scored in a similar game against Oregon when he beat a defenseman outside the blanket with a jab inside, causing the defender to hesitate for a split second as he ran right next to him. He does not lose a step by sliding through the contact while he sprints. The pass is a little in front of him, but his arm length allows him to stretch and reach it without losing a step.
Deep Roads – “Skinner” (deep skinny post)
In addition to performing effective fade routes, he also has the option of selling the fade before switching to the post. In the tree structure of the Shanahan route, this particular route is a route called “widening the skinner” (widening is the beacon to execute it from a condensed split). On the road, the catcher threatens the defender’s leverage by selling the fade or what Shanahan says is his coaching point to “read the takeoff”, then goes to the post.
As Aiyuk hits the top of his rod, the defender’s speed turns to run vertically along the sidelines. Once the defender turns around, Aiyuk plants the outside and cuts the inside at an angle to the post where he catches up for a gain of 56 yards.
Deep routes – “Cop” (corner post)
Aiyuk’s fluidity paths allow him to create separation only because he doesn’t waste movement. If it seems that I am repeating myself here, it is because we cannot stress enough that he is really good at what he does and can do it in various ways.
On this road, the one we saw Shanahan run a handful of times last season with George Kittle and Emmanuel Sanders, a road or a “cop” corner post, Aiyuk beats the deep half of safety when he sells his rod corner and cut a penny at the post part of the route.
Safety speed is changing, and at this point it is difficult to recover effectively to cover the route. Aiyuk makes a difficult adjustment on the pass as throwing is the only thing preventing him from scoring here.
Deep routes – Fire and sailing / flag
One of the characteristics of the basic deep road in Shanahan’s offensive is the “Blaze Out” road made famous by Julio Jones when Shanahan was with the Falcons. The fire was characterized by a vertical field of the stem in seven stages, a pole cut, then a flat cut to the touch line.
Aiyuk becomes vertical inside the defender’s leverage, cuts to the post and spins the defender. At this point, the defender does not think that a receiver would cut outside due to the leverage on the coverage available to him. However, Aiyuk cuts flat on the sidelines and spins the defender’s speed in the process, creating enough separation for Aiyuk to catch and secure the first.
Similar to the fire, here against Arizona, he runs a flag road, another intermediate staple in the attack on Shanahan.
Against media coverage, it takes a release indoors and once it is about 10 meters downstream, it cuts and rolls about 14-15 meters by catching the pass. The cut out is not ideal because it is caught by the defender and takes down for about a step and almost cancels the timing, but he always manages to obtain a certain separation when the quarterback gets him the ball.
Aiyuk has the nuance of creating space on a variety of short trips, as he can effectively sell the course with his eyes and body control.
From number three on trips here, Aiyuk performs a juke route. On a juke road, the receiver must jab step and sell a cut at the top of the rod. Aiyuk throws his whole body into the jab, looks with his eyes out, plants and cuts the face of the linebacker with an internal leverage. The move gave him a four-meter cushion and put the linebacker on skates in the middle of the field, which allowed for an easy finish.
These last two games are good examples of a receiver who understands the rules of leverage and coverage and knows how to attack them, which will come in handy in Shanahan’s offense, an offense designed to break and exploit the rules.
The negatives in Aiyuk’s game are definitely correctable with coaching and a refinement of the technique. This may take a little longer than expected due to the closure of team facilities and the absence of OTAs planned at the moment during the coronavirus pandemic and the inability of players to train with coaches.
In my opinion, the more I watched it, the more I thought it was also worth trading, as the positives of his game far outweigh the negatives. He definitely has big shoes to fill with the departure of Emmanuel Sanders, but fabricating an offense and bringing the ball to Aiyuk will certainly not be a problem for Shanahan. They will probably also rely heavily on the racing game as Aiyuk develops anyway.
The 49ers took big but necessary risks with their top two picks, the rewards being huge on the upside, and we shouldn’t expect a huge drop offensively. In fact, now the attack could have more versatility with the return of injured players. Either way, it will be exciting to watch.