Few teams have as many fantasy football questions surrounding their offenses as the San Francisco 49ers. With the plan to move away from starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and go with the unproven, small-college talent in Trey Lance, the 49ers are anticipated to be one of the most run-heavy teams in the league. So how does that impact third-year wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk?
In two seasons, Aiyuk has teased at greatness but has yet to take the next step in terms of consistency. In 12 games as a rookie in 2020, Aiyuk caught 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns. In what may have been a precursor of things to come for Deebo Samuel and the offensive play calling, Aiyuk rushed six times for 77 yards and two touchdowns.
His production didn’t increase in 2021, but Aiyuk’s impact plays did. In 17 games, he caught 56 passes for 826 yards and five touchdowns. While he caught fewer passes, his 14.8-yard reception average was 2.3 yards more per catch, he saw his yards per target (9.8 yards) increase by two yards per target from his rookie season, catching 67 percent of passes thrown his way.
When looking at Aiyuk’s statistics, the biggest question was how his role changed when Samuel morphed into a hybrid wide receiver/running back. After being in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse during training camp last year, his role in the offense was minimal – in the first six games, he caught just nine passes for 96 yards and one touchdown. In his final 11 games, he caught 47 passes for 730 yards and four touchdowns, ranking 16th among wide receivers in PPR scoring formats and 13th in non-PPR formats in that span. That success has carried over into the start of his third season.
Fantasy football outlook
Aiyuk was the talk of 49ers training camp, catching everything in sight and winning almost every one-on-one battle he faced. While he isn’t the primary topic of conversation in San Francisco at the moment, Aiyuk is a player with a high ceiling for being a midround fantasy pick.
Most analysts see Aiyuk as a WR4 for understandable reasons. The 49ers have an unproven quarterback, an offense that is most successful when it’s running the ball and two players – Samuel and tight end George Kittle – who have received the lion’s share of passing targets. That checks a lot of negative boxes, but it shouldn’t override Aiyuk’s talent.
If the plan is to continue using Samuel as a dual-threat receiver and runner, it’s going to keep Aiyuk on the outside with the potential for more big downfield plays. He is still the clear No. 3 target behind Samuel and Kittle, but his ability to make plays deep downfield make him more of a midrange to low-end WR3 than a WR4. His role in the offense increased as the 2021 season went on and the 49ers started stringing together wins, and that should be the launch point for 2022 – even if there are a slew of questions about how the Lance-led offense will operate.