49ers fans must relax about Brandon Aiyuk slow start

Brandon Aiyuk #11 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Brandon Aiyuk #11 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

Two years ago, 49ers fans were worried how Dante Pettis was falling off. Now, it’s Brandon Aiyuk’s turn, yet the contexts are completely different.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is notoriously tough on his wide receivers.

Being a former collegiate wideout himself, Shanahan arguably holds this position group to a higher standard than any other offensive player. And it might help explain why more of the Niners’ receivers over the years have proverbially found their way into Shanahan’s “doghouse.”

In 2019, that player was now-New York Giants practice-squad wide receiver Dante Pettis, who flamed out a year after an impressive finish to his rookie season.

Now, it appears as if second-year pro Brandon Aiyuk is in the same category.

Except for he isn’t.

Alright. There’s no getting around the fact Aiyuk wasn’t targeted a single time during San Francisco’s regular-season opener against the Detroit Lions last Sunday. The only time Aiyuk touched the ball was on a lone punt return that went for 7 yards.

So, it’s understandable why many a fan would think, “why can’t the wide receivers we draft early pan out in year two?”

It’s OK to relax on this. Especially now with regards to the 2020 first-round NFL Draft pick.

49ers Week 1 non-targets of Brandon Aiyuk are misleading

It’s one thing to note how Aiyuk wasn’t targeted in Week 1. But unlike Pettis, who scantly saw the field towards the middle stages of 2019, Aiyuk was notably present on the field for plenty of offensive snaps.

Twenty-six, to be exact.

Meanwhile, fellow wide receiver Trent Sherfield made the most of the opportunity opposite the 189-yard recording wideout, Deebo Samuel, with 27 offensive snaps, merely one more than Aiyuk, and on one pass play where Sherfield hauled in rookie quarterback Trey Lance‘s first ever regular-season touchdown throw:


That was one of only two catches Sherfield had in the game in what essentially turned into split duties with Aiyuk.

Sherfield’s ascent has made it hard for Aiyuk to solidify himself as the opposite option to Samuel, but even then, Shanahan had an explanation that helps alleviate concerns about the second-year pro.

Kyle Shanahan’s comments about Brandon Aiyuk are vague but telling

Back in the summer of 2019, Shanahan publically called out Pettis for his notable second-year blues, which ultimately led to the 49ers waiving the former second-round draft pick a year later.

No such words have been said about Aiyuk. At least not yet.

Instead, Shanahan’s post-Week 1 press conference highlighted two things, an Aiyuk injury and the fact Sherfield has performed awfully well since training camp:

"Trent wasn’t a first-round draft pick, so that might not be as obvious with the talent level, but he’s been a hell of a football player since he’s been here. Aiyuk’s been a little inconsistent because he’s been in and out with his [hamstring] injury. And that’s what we felt was the best chance for us last week. Aiyuk’s still got a chance to get that spot up and not rotate as much, Trent just doesn’t make that very easy. …I’m happy with Aiyuk. It’s nothing against Aiyuk. I’m just also happy with Trent, too."

Modest shade thrown in Aiyuk’s direction?

Maybe. But it’s important to at least acknowledge the hamstring injury Aiyuk was dealing with last month. It’s also more than fair to admit Sherfield has been impressive, too, putting pressure on Aiyuk to reattain the role he was assumed to have at the start of the year.

It would be one thing if Aiyuk saw only a handful of offensive snaps in Week 1. It would be another thing if Shanahan made the same kind of remarks about Aiyuk as made about Pettis two years ago.

Neither happened. Nothing to worry about here.

At least not yet.

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