San Francisco 49ers: 3 players who must exceed expectations in 2020

The San Francisco 49ers defense (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
The San Francisco 49ers defense (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State Sun Devils, 49ers
Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk #2 of the Arizona State Sun Devils (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

No. 2: 49ers Wide Receiver Brandon Aiyuk

The Niners eventually want their rookie wide receiver, Brandon Aiyuk, to assume a key role as a major contributor for head coach Kyle Shanahan in the passing game.

Now, with second-year wide receiver Deebo Samuel potentially missing time early in the regular season due to a foot fracture, Aiyuk will be under even more pressure to deliver right away.

San Francisco’s wide receiver room was a weakness early in 2019, yet the team still started off 8-0 before making the midseason trade for veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders’ presence opened up the door for Samuel to be a budding star, and the hope was going to be for Samuel to do something similar for Aiyuk over time.

Now, the only other established wideout slated to go by Week 1 is Kendrick Bourne who, while serviceable, is nowhere close to the level of potency as that of Samuel.

This puts a lot of pressure on the rookie, as Aiyuk will now be tasked with mastering Kyle Shanahan’s complex offense along with all the nuances of going up against pro-caliber defensive backs.

There won’t be much room for error either.

Aiyuk won’t have to carry San Francisco’s offense, no. But he’ll have to be an instant contributor to keep Shanahan’s play calling from being too reliant on the ground attack.

If it works, Aiyuk’s star could rise much faster than initially anticipated.