Every time I think of Brandon Aiyuk, I am reminded of the draft-night video of Kyle Shanahan that circulated on the inter-webs featuring the 49ers’ head coach vividly celebrating the selection of the Arizona State receiver.
At this time last year, there were more questions than answers surrounding the play of Aiyuk — as he seemingly fell into Shanahan’s infamous “dog-house.” He fell behind on the depth chart and didn’t find himself playing a ton of snaps early in the season. Despite the sluggish start, Aiyuk finished the season strong and actually had more receiving yards and the same amount of touchdowns in his second season as his first.
Coming into his third season, I’m extremely bullish on Brandon Aiyuk’s prospects in this offense, especially given the transition to Trey Lance at quarterback. If you’ve followed either Lance or Aiyuk on social media, it’s clear that the two share a bond that extends beyond the football field — including a recent trip to San Diego, CA, where they had a throwing session and lunch with the 49ers’ brass.
Lance’s ability to push the ball outside the numbers and down the field should only boost Aiyuk’s numbers even further. Last season, 15.5 percent of Lance’s passes went past 20 yards, and he featured a 45.5 percent completion rate on those attempts. Aiyuk is going to be the direct beneficiary of Lance’s ability to hit passes all over the field.
Still don’t believe me? Kyle Shanahan spoke at length on Wednesday about Brandon Aiyuk’s growth this offseason:
And I think that was the cool thing hearing from Brandon [Aiyuk] because his rookie season was COVID year. And so he didn’t have anything in the offseason. He just showed up here and we didn’t even know until about two weeks before he showed up whether we were having a season or not, so he was a little behind and then training camp was kind of a joke for the whole league. And so the season was kind of weird and then we had so many people get hurt and he had to play a ton, but that’s all he knew with NFL. So his experience is man, I just kind of showed up and I started all year and people say I’m going be one of the best guys next year. And he does have that ability, but he thought that was NFL. And the next offseason COVID still, we didn’t have the right rules. And he didn’t know he had to do anything until camp, so he just came a little behind. And he was like, ‘oh man, this camp’s tougher than last year.’ It’s like yeah, last year wasn’t camp. And then you get into the season and it’s man, this is different. And I think Brandon, instead of blaming other people and making excuses, he worked, didn’t say a lot, just kept going to work. And he’s a smart dude and he is perceptive and he learned, wow, this is right. This is totally different. Man, I’m going to be ready for year three, because year two was really my rookie year and that’s why he is so much further ahead right now. And sometimes guys have to get cut to learn that. And that’s what you hope guys don’t have to do, but guys have to learn it somewhere.”
Kyle Posey attended the first training camp practice on Wednesday morning and saw Aiyuk catch three difficult contested catches and argued that he should be able to push Deebo Samuel this season as the leading pass-catcher on this team.
I think Aiyuk’s chemistry with Lance during the offseason, combined with the fact that he’s further along at this point of training camp compared to last season, should lead to an increased workload and production.
It would have been easy for Aiyuk to go in the route of former 49ers’ second-round wide receiver Dante Pettis, who also struggled in his sophomore season, but never bounced back and found his spot on the 49ers. Instead, Aiyuk has somehow harnessed the struggles and used them to fuel his even greater comeback this offseason.
It’s not too late — but it’s time to buy all the available Brandon Aiyuk stock before it sells out.