49ers roster: Brandon Aiyuk quietly put together an impressive 2021

Brandon Aiyuk #11 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Brandon Aiyuk #11 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

It’s strange to think 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk was being called a bust early in 2021, as he was able to finish the year in an impressive fashion.

Six games into the 2021 season, San Francisco 49ers fans were about ready to call second-year wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk a bust.

Aiyuk was officially in head coach Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse, regardless of whether or not Shanahan ever admitted so, and the 2020 first-round NFL Draft pick’s lack of use was nevertheless baffling.

Exactly how much that played into the Niners starting off the year 3-5 is anyone’s guess, but Aiyuk not playing a big role certainly didn’t help.

Fortunately for both him and San Francisco’s offense, Aiyuk turned things around and then some.

Brandon Aiyuk had excellent second half of 2021 for 49ers

Perhaps it was some of that “tough love” Shanahan had to show him, but Aiyuk’s sluggish start turned around in Week 9 despite the team’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals that week.

From Week 9 through the end of the regular season, Aiyuk only had three games where he failed to reach 50 receiving yards:

Brandon Aiyuk 2021 Games Table (Weeks 9-18)
2021-11-079ARIL 17-31*868914.83175.0%11.131
2021-11-1510LARW 31-10*43268.67075.0%6.500
2021-11-2111@JAXW 30-10*778512.141100.0%12.140
2021-11-2812MINW 34-26*639130.33050.0%15.170
2021-12-0513@SEAL 23-30*635518.33050.0%9.170
2021-12-1214@CINW 26-23*1066210.33160.0%6.200
2021-12-1915ATLW 31-13*213636.00050.0%18.000
2021-12-2316@TENL 17-20*544010.00180.0%8.000
2022-01-0217HOUW 23-7*649423.50066.7%15.671
2022-01-0918@LARW 27-24*7610717.83085.7%15.290

Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com
Generated 2/3/2022.

“He knows I push him hard, but I think he knows what my intent is,” Shanahan said of Aiyuk to KNBR 680 (h/t 49ers Webzone). “My intent is to get him to be the best receiver he can be, so he can help the Niners. And his goal is to be the best receiver he can be, one, so he can help the Niners, but [also] so he can support his family and have a hell of a career.”

However that push went, it worked.

Aiyuk, most of the numbers skewed to the second half of the season, finished 2021 with 56 receptions, 826 receiving yards and five touchdowns, eclipsing his rookie-year totals, albeit over five more games played.

What’s in store for Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers going forward?

There’s no questioning fellow wide receiver Deebo Samuel is the 49ers’ top option at the position in the immediate future. This, after Samuel netted 1,770 all-purpose yards and led the team with 1,405 receiving yards en route to his first Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro nomination.

But, with San Francisco shifting focus from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to last year’s rookie signal-caller, Trey Lance, the need to have as many quality weapons at the latter’s disposal will be vital for Lance to thrive.

Related Story: Brandon Aiyuk is officially out of 49ers doghouse

Regardless of who’s under center, only a tiny handful of quarterbacks around the league can effectively make do with only one bona fide option at the position.

Aiyuk might never reach the kind of prowess Samuel has right now, but that’d still be OK. From a historical perspective, albeit one of vast difference, Aiyuk might be the equivalent of former 49ers wide receiver John Taylor to the Hall of Famer, Jerry Rice.

Taylor was always the overlooked receiver, yet he was nevertheless important.

Perhaps that’s the kind of role Aiyuk will assume, while Samuel receives the limelight.

Still beneficial for San Francisco, though.

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