How SF 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk thrived in place of injured Deebo Samuel
By Chris Wilson
While SF 49ers No. 1 wide receiver Deebo Samuel recovered from injury, rookie first-round wideout Brandon Aiyuk shined as his replacement.
If opposing defenses have “19 Problemz” when facing the SF 49ers‘ top wide receiver Deebo Samuel, the New York Giants faced at least 11 problems as Niners rookie wideout Brandon Aiyuk thrived as Samuel’s replacement in Week 3 of the 2020 NFL regular season.
The Niners’ second-year star, Samuel, uses the social media handle “19problemz” because he was drafted in 2019, he dons the number 19 on his jersey, and he tends to cause problems for defensive coordinators whenever he takes the field. Unfortunately, the fan-favorite didn’t see regular-season action until a very limited role in Week 4 against the Philadelphia Eagles, due to a Jones fracture Samuel sustained during a player practice in mid-June.
The SF 49ers spent extensive time searching for a temporary replacement for Deebo as he recovered from surgery, but each dual-threat receiver on the roster or signed by the front office quickly suffered substantial injuries of their own. Particularly after allowing veteran wide receiver Emmanual Sanders walk in free agency, San Francisco needed a competent receiver to replace a significant portion of Samuel’s 2019 production, which nearly totaled 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns.
Instead, the Niners entered the regular season without acquiring a talented wideout, and they paid the price in the form of a Week 1 loss which also cost the team their lone receiving option in tight end George Kittle.
The SF needed a spark — an electric player who could line up on the outside who was a true wide receiver. With their backs up against the wall and out of options, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan did the only thing they could; They activated their raw rookie wide receiver from Arizona State, Aiyuk, despite the team’s original plan to slowly ease the athletic talent into action.
Luckily for San Francisco, Aiyuk proved to be a quicker learner than expected.
SF 49ers get a Deebo-like spark from Brandon Aiyuk in Week 3
Aiyuk started the game at receiver in Week 2, but despite seeing the field for over 70 percent of the team’s offensive snaps, the rookie was mostly used as a decoy. Despite that fact, the youngster received valuable playing time, learned a few lessons in the blocking game, and hauled in a pair of first-down receptions.
And then the training wheels came off.
All the fakes, decoys, and window dressing in Week 2 turned into key targets and touches in Week 3, and Aiyuk was up for the challenge. By the end of the game, the rookie racked up over 100 yards from scrimmage, seven first downs, and his first NFL touchdown — en route to Week 3 Rookie of the Week honors:
If you didn’t know any better, you may have thought No. 19 snuck onto the field in a different jersey.
That trend continued into Week 3, too. While Samuel was able to get back onto the field and hauled in three catches for 35 yards, it was Aiyuk who took a backwards pass from quarterback Nick Mullens and ran it in for a 38-yard score:
The extra hop at the end might have been less Samuel, more Aiyuk, though. Nevertheless, Aiyuk is emulating the same kind of dual-threat capabilities — both as a receiver and as a rusher — Samuel flashed last season.
All to San Francisco’s benefit.
In Week 5, Samuel and Aiyuk will hopefully be at 100 percent and will look to team up with Kittle to form the kind of aerial attack wanted to feature entering this season. With both Samuel and Aiyuk on the field, the Miami Dolphins defense should be concerned about the 30 problems they’ll be forced to endure thanks to the San Francisco 49ers’ duo of talented wide receivers.