When Brandon Aiyuk entered the league in 2020, he was first described by nfl.com’s Lance Zierlein as an “ascending receiving prospect who has shown continued improvement since coming from the JUCO ranks.”
Things got off to a rough start for the 25th overall pick in the draft and former junior college product. But he’s witnessed a turnaround once Halloween 2021 arrived, establishing himself as a strong No. 2 option for Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers‘ offense.
Now, with a new quarterback projected to take the reins in Trey Lance, the incoming third-year wideout has ascended to a new title: Potential breakout candidate for the 49ers according to Pro Football Focus on Friday, May 20.
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Aiyuk Could be ‘Potential Emergency’ Option
Pro Football Focus writer Kambui Bomani unveiled his “6 potential breakout candidates” in the NFC this season and added Aiyuk as the 49ers representative.
Why is Aiyuk called the breakout contender in the Bay Area? Bomani mentioned the ongoing contract status involving WR1 Deebo Samuel as a primary reason.
“Amid the unknown of Deebo Samuel’s status with the team, wide receiver touches are available to a variety of solid 49ers pass-catchers. Aiyuk was seemingly in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse at times last season, enduring a slow start to the year before returning to form as a solid receiving option,” Bomani wrote. “With second-year quarterback Trey Lance in line to start in 2022, Aiyuk will be expected to take the third-year leap as a valuable receiving option.”
Bomani then revealed where Aiyuk is nearly 100% consistent at: The targets below 20 yards.
“Aiyuk’s 99.8 grade on intermediate targets (10-19 yards) in 2021 ranked second among all wideouts,” Bomani wrote.
The PFF writer then concluded with this detail: Aiyuk could end up as Lance’s WR1 if the Samuel situation doesn’t get resolved.
“And that’s likely the range in which Lance will lean on him as a potential emergency WR1 without Samuel,” Bomani wrote.
A Breakdown of Aiyuk’s Ascension
The numbers may not be over-the-top astonishing, but Aiyuk has managed to wow a lot of fans, especially the 49ers faithful, with his turnaround in the reception and yardage category.
Aiyuk had difficulty surpassing the 50-yard receiving mark in 12 of his first 19 games. Also included: Five of his first six games of the 2021 season saw the former Arizona State Sun Devil settle for no more than two catches.
From Halloween to the NFC title game, Aiyuk flipped a switch and helped add more fuel to the 49ers’ offense — producing 12 games of catching between three to seven receptions and going from just 96 total yards in those first six games to hitting 865 including playoffs.
He found a way to sneak behind opponents in the end zone, becoming a closet red zone option in the process:
He also did this to prized cornerback Trevon Diggs of the Dallas Cowboys during the playoffs:
Of course, how can the 49ers faithful forget this daring leap of faith Aiyuk pulled against the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals?
Aiyuk has had his turnaround. Now he’s got the potential to breakout with Lance at the controls.