The San Francisco 49ers had an unexpected hero emerge on their roster last season. While the spotlight often shone on Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, it was Brandon Aiyuk who stole the show. The Arizona State product dominated the field, leading the team in targets, receiving yards, and receptions, and securing the first 1,000-yard season of his young career. With eight touchdowns to his name, Aiyuk proved he was a force to be reckoned with.
As the 2023 season approaches, expectations are sky-high for Aiyuk. His jaw-dropping performances in practice have left everyone in awe. According to tight end George Kittle, Aiyuk's success can be attributed to his growing comfort in head coach Kyle Shanahan's complex offensive system.
"Now that he's figured out the offense, he gets to add his own sauce on top of all that," Kittle said. "And so now you see those cool plays, those cool catches where he's ripping it away from people. He's just taken another step. And it's because he has this foundation, this understanding of this awesome offense, that gives him the opportunity to just route people up and look like a superstar — which is what he is."
Selected as the 25th overall pick in the 2020 draft, Aiyuk finds inspiration in practicing alongside one of the league's finest receivers, Deebo Samuel. The dynamic duo of Aiyuk and Samuel forms one of the most formidable receiving tandems in the NFL, capable of carrying the 49ers' offense as the team's primary targets. Aiyuk's dominance has been on full display during this year's training camp, solidifying his status as the best player on the field.
What sets Aiyuk apart is his exceptional route running and his ability to make catches in difficult situations. Despite his 6-foot, 200-pound frame, Aiyuk possesses an impressive catch radius and a remarkable 40-inch vertical leap. His speed allows him to blow past defenders, while his concentration ensures he consistently comes down with contested catches. Aiyuk's go-to route, the "go" ball, allows him to exploit the back end of the defense for explosive plays.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan has been effusive in his praise for Aiyuk's progress. "Last year I thought was the best year that he's had, and you usually know how they react to that based off the offseason," Shanahan said. "And he's been obsessed this offseason with football. You can tell he enjoys talking about it, he enjoys preparing for it and he's truly become a pro. And the results I think will keep showing."
Deebo Samuel echoes Shanahan's sentiments, noting Aiyuk's skyrocketing confidence. "From Year 1 to now, his confidence level is through the roof. He walks in and walks out every day like nobody can guard him. And when you walk around with that type of attitude and take that to the field, it can only translate. He's taken his game to another level, and it's exciting to see."
However, the 49ers face a financial challenge in retaining Aiyuk for the long term. With several key players already signed to lucrative, long-term deals, the team will need to maneuver their finances to accommodate Aiyuk's future. As he enters the final year of his rookie contract, Aiyuk is set to earn $2.3 million this season. The 49ers have secured his fifth-year option for 2024, where he will earn $14.12 million.
Brandon Aiyuk's rise to stardom has been nothing short of remarkable. With his exceptional skills, unwavering confidence, and an offense tailored to his strengths, Aiyuk is poised to become a superstar in the NFL. Keep an eye on this rising star as he continues to shine for the San Francisco 49ers.