Jerry Rice knows a thing or two about stepping up when the pressure is on for a playoff run. He did it multiple times during his days with the San Francisco 49ers before winning four Super Bowls and landing in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He’s since bequeathed his title as a No. 1 WR for the 49ers, but he still has high expectations for the wide receivers who wear the 49ers colors as he did.
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Particularly, one young wideout who Rice says the 49ers will “really need” for this final postseason push, which he shared in a conversation with Heavy on Tuesday, December 7.
Who Rice Hopes to See Step Up
The wide receiver Rice points to? Former first-rounder Brandon Aiyuk.
Rice is hopeful that the second-year receiver out of Arizona State is going to be the 49er who delivers the impactful plays — especially with one top target still down and to take pressure away from another go-to playmaker.
“He’s starting to make some plays now and hopefully down the road, we’re gonna really need him because I really don’t know with Deebo Samuel with that groin injury, how quickly he’s gonna be able to come back, then George Kittle is George Kittle.
“But you know, a lot is riding with Brandon Aiyuk right now,” Rice told Heavy on behalf of Marriott Bonvoy, for which the 49ers legend is part of the company’s Super Bowl packages, including a youth football camp with guest coaching from him and a virtual chalk talk set for February 12, 2022.
Aiyuk was showing signs of a turnaround. He went from hauling in just 9 receptions during the slow 2-4 start to catching 26 passes in the last six games — with the 49ers winning four of those contests.
Additionally, the 49ers have won two of three games when Aiyuk surpasses 84 receiving yards according to Pro Football Reference. There was a time he was trending upward.
However, Aiyuk wasn’t much of a factor on offense in the 49ers’ 30-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday: Catching just 3 footballs for 55 yards but his one drop came on what could’ve been a play that would’ve eaten up lots of yards, as noted below:
Aiyuk also had his most struggles with former 49er D.J. Reed: Targeted twice with him as the nearest coverage defender but held to zero catches according to Pro Football Focus. Aiyuk had his most success on Ugo Amadi by catching two throws for 37 yards his side — with both of his catches good enough for first downs.
Rice Thought Aiyuk Would Have ‘More of An Impact This Year’
While Rice’s 49ers playing days are now in the archives, he still expects his former team to be loaded on impact players and guys willing to step up when called upon.
Rice, however, told Heavy that he hasn’t seen much from Aiyuk thus far in 2021.
“I thought he was really going to be more of an impact this year, but I don’t know what happened,” Rice said. “It’s almost like he took a step back, and he’s starting to make some plays now and as a receiver, it’s all about confidence. Also, you have to win the trust, not only of your coaches, but also your teammates.”