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OTAs for the 49ers began on Monday. Fans are brimming with optimism as veterans and rookies will participate, signaling football is close. Today is the only day media will be allowed to view practice, and Kyle Shanahan and several players are scheduled to speak shortly after.
While most fans will want to hear how Sam Darnold and Trey Lance fared on the day, let’s pivot to the wide receivers.
Brandon Aiyuk had his finest season as a pro in 2022 and turned 114 targets into 78 receptions, 1,015 yards, and eight touchdowns, all career highs.
Deebo Samuel had an unprecedented season in 2021. Unfortunately, Samuel dealt with injuries in 2022, which hampered his production. When healthy, Samuel is still a force and weapon.
The leading receiver for the 49ers has swung back and forth between Aiyuk and Samuel since 2020. Aiyuk in 2020, Samuel in 2021, and Aiyuk again in 2022.
If these trends continue, it will be Samuel’s turn in 2023.
Well, not so fast. It’s difficult to ignore the growth of Aiyuk. The question isn’t about Aiyuk’s talent but more about the quarterback position. Either way, I’d bet on Aiyuk leading the team in receiving yards in 2023.
To find the last 49ers receiver who accomplished that feat, you would have to go back to 2015. Anquan Boldin led the 49ers in receiving for three consecutive seasons from 2013-15.
Michael Crabtree held the crown from 2011-12, leading the team in both seasons. Terrell Owens led the team for four consecutive seasons from 2000-03.
Now, if we are counting pass catchers, the latest to lead the team in consecutive seasons is George Kittle, in 2018 and 19.
Aiyuk is my choice to lead the team in receiving, especially in a contract year. The starting quarterback will have a ton to do with his production, but in 2020, Aiyuk performed as a rookie with Nick Mullens and CJ Beathard for much of the season.
I’ll take Aiyuk. Who do you believe will lead the team in receiving in 2023?
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