49ers roster: Brandon Aiyuk must see more touches after Week 6 bye
By Romelo Bracy
49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk seems to be in the doghouse, but he has the talent to get out of it and should be more involved from this point forward.
The San Francisco 49ers‘ 2020 first-round NFL Draft pick, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, was a popular choice for most when it came to breakout players for the Niners this season.
But that narrative has gone the complete opposite direction, as Aiyuk has barely shown to have any relevance within the offense. Although his snap percentage has been rising as of late, Aiyuk’s season-high in targets thus far is six. Aiyuk saw more than six targets in eight of his 12 games in 2020, where he was one of the best rookie receivers in the NFL.
Simply put, Aiyuk needs to see more touches and be on the field as much as possible for this team to truly be explosive.
49ers need more target shares for Brandon Aiyuk
In 2020, Aiyuk saw a team target share of 24.2 percent. Five games into the 2021 season and amid San Francisco’s bye week, Aiyuk is seeing a share of just 10.6 percent of the team’s targets, according to playerprofiler.com.
Aiyuk is a proven playmaker when the ball is in his hands, a target share that low for his talent is detrimental to the offense. In games where Aiyuk saw six or more targets last season, he averaged seven receptions for 85 receiving yards. If Aiyuk gets opportunities, he will produce, and a player like him needs to get into some sort of rhythm, and limiting his touches prevents him from doing so.
We got to see a glimpse of how the 49ers will try to distribute the ball without tight end George Kittle, who’s now on injured reserve with a calf injury, in Week 5 against the Arizona Cardinals. One would think with Kittle out, Aiyuk and fellow wide receiver Deebo Samuel would dominate the targets, but that wasn’t quite the case as Samuel finished with nine targets and Aiyuk with four.
Veteran wide receiver Travis Benjamin also appeared to be a bit involved in his first action as a 49er, too, seeing three targets, along with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu getting three as well.
Aiyuk is far more talented than those other two and needs to be the one receiving those targets and running those routes, as neither Benjamin nor Sanu have looked very impressive thus far and aren’t as prolific as Aiyuk in this stage of their respective careers.
49ers need to get their NFL Draft return on Brandon Aiyuk
It wasn’t very long ago the Niners moved up in the draft to select Aiyuk out of Arizona State with their first-round pick. That alone should garner more touches for Aiyuk, but it hasn’t, as head coach Kyle Shanahan is so confident in his scheme that he has no problem taking a player out of it.
We have seen it before with now-New York Giants wide receiver Dante Pettis, and now Aiyuk appears to be the next young San Francisco receiver to leave us scratching our head.
And the Associated Press‘ Josh Dubow pointed out something that’s notably concerning:
This season, the 49ers are using Aiyuk in a completely different role than the one he was in last year. Aiyuk is being targeted on short routes that hardly surpass 10 yards from the line of scrimmage, and that is not where he is most effective. According to Next Gen Stats, Aiyuk ran one route over 10 yards in the Week 3 game against the Green Bay Packers. In 2020, Aiyuk saw 12 deep targets of 20-plus yards, and so far this season, he has only seen one.
When Benjamin was inserted into the lineup against the Cardinals, he was the one running the deep routes and getting shot plays. Aiyuk is a receiver who can catch the ball down the field when given the opportunity. In addition to those deep targets no longer being there, as a result, his total air yards have taken a huge dip as well. Air yards are the total target distance from the line of scrimmage to the catch point. Last season, Aiyuk averaged 73 air yards per game.
Related Story: 49ers’ lack of use of Brandon Aiyuk is disturbing
This season, that number is at a very discouraging 27.8 yards per game.
For Aiyuk to be more effective in this offense, the Niners need to give him more down-the-field targets and opportunities. Aiyuk is a receiver who can do it all, and San Francisco is limiting his abilities by giving him short targets and using him exclusively close to the line of scrimmage.
He can begin turning his season around in Week 7 against the Indianapolis Colts if the 49ers can get him more touches.