Based on draft position alone, the receiver the 49ers thought was capable of a 1,400-yard season wasn’t Deebo Samuel; it was Brandon Aiyuk. When Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch gave up three picks to move up six spots in the draft, they thought they were getting an elite wideout capable of carrying their passing attack. But, after two seasons, is that still possible for Aiyuk? Leo Luna dove into that question on today’s Oh, Hey There! podcast.
It’s hard to forget Kyle Shanahan’s reaction when the 49ers took Aiyuk in the first round back in 2020. He and John Lynch were beaming from ear to ear when the pick became official. Aiyuk’s hurdle against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football in just his third game as a professional had everyone dreaming about what could be.
Unfortunately, as every 49ers fan knows, circumstances have conspired to keep Aiyuk mostly under wraps to the outside NFL world. While the Faithful might know just how explosive Aiyuk can be, most NFL fans at large probably don’t think he’s anything to write home about. To be fair, two sub-1,000-yard seasons and 10 touchdowns don’t exactly scream “future all-pro” to anyone.
There could be reasons for optimism, however. First and foremost, it’s highly unlikely Aiyuk will spend another half a season in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse. Whatever issues the two had with each other seem to have been worked out last year.
Second, Aiyuk seems to have chemistry with Trey Lance that he didn’t have with Jimmy Garoppolo. In 15 games with Garoppolo last season, Aiyuk averaged three catches for 47 yards per game. Aiyuk averaged 3 catches for 63 yards per game in Lance's two starts. Obviously, the sample size with Lance is far smaller, but he’s also spent more time than any other receiver working out with Trey in the offseason. Meanwhile, anyone who watched Aiyuk’s games with Jimmy could see Brandon’s frustration out on the field. Aiyuk was also conspicuously silent when many other members of the 49ers were defending Jimmy Garoppolo last season.
Furthermore, Aiyuk’s skillset compliments Trey Lance’s strengths far more than those of Jimmy Garoppolo. Lance is a better passer deeper down the field, and he has the arm strength to throw the ball outside the numbers - as seen in this frozen rope to Aiyuk in Week 5 last year. Whereas Deebo Samuel thrived over the middle of the field, Aiyuk wins on the outside oftentimes, where receivers went to die under Jimmy Garoppolo. That will change this season.
All this is to say, don’t lose faith in Aiyuk’s upside just yet. He won’t be able to duplicate the way Deebo Samuel was able to put up 1,400+ receiving yards last year, but that doesn’t mean such a feat is unattainable for him. That same guy we saw explode on the scene against Philadelphia could be primed to blow up again in 2022.