One position the San Francisco 49ers did not prioritize addressing this offseason is wide receiver. With Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk at the top of the depth chart, it looks like head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager are confident in their current group.
Aiyuk and Samuel are YAC monsters capable of making big plays with the ball in their hands. Unfortunately, both receivers dealt with injury issues that prevented them from playing in all 16 games, but they will give opposing defenses fits if they are healthy in 2021.
As a rookie, Aiyuk and the remaining 2020 draft class were forced to miss key in-person team workouts due to the pandemic. Still, the Arizona product was impressive during his first year in the NFL.
The 22-year-old Aiyuk racked up 60 receptions for 748 yards and five touchdowns. His total receiving yards were third-most by a 49ers rookie behind only Samuel and the great Jerry Rice. Aiyuk also added six carries for 77 yards and two scores on the ground.
Bet against the No. 1 receiver in Kyle Shanahan’s offense at your own risk. While Deebo Samuel led the league in average separation last year, Aiyuk was still pacing right behind him, despite being asked to assume some more challenging roles within the offense that sometimes doesn’t yield the same matchup opportunities. Still, this is a receiver drafted for a role that has been wonderfully productive over time for those who play it well. In addition, the 49ers could be upgrading at quarterback in the near future. At some point, the scheme will change and having a quarterback who adds his hand in the running game will also force teams to cover the 49ers differently. This could also lead to a higher ceiling for Aiyuk.
Aiyuk put up solid numbers in 2020 despite playing most of his snaps with backup Nick Mullens at QB.
Yards per game: 62.3
Yards per reception: 12.5
YAC yards: 289
Having a full offseason should be a big help for Aiyuk going into his sophomore season. The 49ers had a huge turnout at OTAs, and the players will be able to spend much more time training at the team’s facility in Santa Clara.
If he is able to stay healthy for all 16 games, Aiyuk should approach 1,000 receiving yards in 2021. He has shown an ability to get separation from opposing defenders and is a major threat when he gets the ball in his hands close to the line of scrimmage.
Do you think Aiyuk has a legitimate shot at being a Pro Bowler next season? Who do you think will put up better numbers next season out of Aiyuk and Samuel?