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NFL Draft

Brandon Aiyuk Can Continue Breakout Performance On Sunday

  • The Draft Network
  • October 29, 2020
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The San Francisco 49ers have had a glaring problem on offense. While they fall just outside the top 10 in total offense, averaging just under 383 yards per game, and boast one of the top rushing attacks, tallying 138 yards per game, their passing offense leaves a lot to be desired.

It was one of the things that plagued this team in years past, but with solid quarterback play from Jimmy Garoppolo and one of the best defenses in the league, San Francisco was able to still make it to the Super Bowl with a middling passing attack.

The lack of playmakers behind tight end George Kittle and second-year wide receiver Deebo Samuel was concerning. The 49ers selected Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk with their first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to help fill out their receiver room. The Draft Network’s instant analysis following San Francisco’s pick found Aiyuk as a perfect complementary piece in the 49ers’ system and an elite yards-after-catch producer—which is exactly what he’s become.

“For a San Francisco franchise that loves to operate with quick-strike passing concepts, Aiyuk will excel with the ball in his hands and operate as a perfect producer in the screen game. Refinement as a route-runner is needed, but Aiyuk has the athleticism and ball skills to step up and fill a supporting role right away as a rookie. Losing out on top stars like CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy hurts, but grabbing a quality defensive tackle in Javon Kinlaw and then landing Aiyuk is an excellent haul for the defending NFC champions.”

The 49ers have been plagued with injuries this season, and the lastest injury bug will see Samuel and running back Jeff Wilson Jr. missing time in a key divisional matchup with the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. 

When healthy, Samuel has been a big part of the offense and key to the receiving corps’ aggressive mentality. San Francisco has been physical in the passing game, and it’s not just Kittle running through defenders. In the 49ers’ 24-16 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 6, the trio of pass-catchers—Kittle, Samuel, and Aiyuk—combined for 182 total yards after the catch. Samuel topped the charts at 96 yards after the catch, Kittle had 72, and Aiyuk 14. It’s no wonder they’re called the YAC Bros and why Samuel’s absence could slow down the momentum San Francisco is building with back-to-back wins.

“Deebo is a huge part of our offense, huge part of our team,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday. “When you have a threat of someone who can hurt you, whether it’s blocking, whether it’s catching or whether it’s running, that’s always is an issue for defenses. I truly believe the, I’ve always kind of said this with the offenses, the mentality of a receiver group can really add to the mentality of your offense because I always feel running backs, O-Linemen don’t have a choice. They have to be physical all the time and receivers somewhat do have a choice. They can get away with a little bit and the physicality our receivers bring to the game, and starting with Deebo, really helps our offense. We’ll miss him when he’s out. That’s for sure.”

Samuel against a painfully bad Seattle pass defense would have been exciting to watch. In the unfortunate timing of a left hamstring strain came a timely breakout performance from Aiyuk. He had a career-best game and despite not finding the end zone, played a big role in the 49ers’ 33-6 win over the New England Patriots. Aiyuk finished Week 7 with 115 yards on six receptions and is now the team’s most productive receiver with 280 yards and one touchdown on 20 catches.

Aiyuk is tapping into his potential and a marquee matchup that should have two offenses going toe-to-toe can continue to boost his confidence as he better settles into this offense. The Seahawks have given up a league-high 479 yards per game and opposing quarterbacks have shredded their pass defense, averaging 369 yards per game. Seattle has also given up a league-leading 1,681 yards to receivers

While the 49ers are still lacking receiver depth with a string of injuries, they can round out their offense with more reliable skill players like Aiyuk. He is already emerging as a first-year star in one of the most unique NFL seasons to date and performing at a high level battling injuries of his own—he was week-to-week with a hamstring injury of his own in late August—with little-to-no preparation due to the COVID-19 pandemic shortening training camp and nixing preseason. 

While he’s earning praise across the league, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll has been on notice.

“He's really good. He's a really good player,” Carroll said Wednesday. “We had him in high regard on our end too. We loved the guy coming out. When he went in to follow the draft pick Deebo (a couple of years ago, we thought, ‘Boy, those are two great, great gets.’ We really respect those players, and you see that Brandon has not had any trouble making the transition from ASU.
"He's just done a great job. Right now, everybody's battling, being banged up and all. He's really stepped up, and he's a real key factor for them."

Everyone else should be on notice too.

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