With Deebo Samuel going down, is it rookie Brandon Aiyuk’s time to step up?
The second-round pick out of South Carolina had a fantastic first season with the 49ers last season. He had 71 total touches for 961 yards from scrimmage and six trips to pay dirt. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was expecting big things out of him in year two. However, a broken foot suffered in the offseason will lead to a very slow start for him in 2020.
The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Thursday afternoon, “49ers WR Deebo Samuel suffered a broken foot on Tuesday during a throwing session with teammates in Nashville and will be having surgery today, I’m told. It is a Jones fracture, and he should be able to be on the field early in the season.”
Though it does not seem to be anything close to a season-ending injury, it’s hard to envision Samuel having a great September for the 49ers. Perhaps the 49ers brass regrets letting wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders walk in his free agency? The 49ers receiving corps does look a little bare. Does that mean rookie Brandon Aiyuk will have to be ready to make an instant impact?
Will Brandon Aiyuk step up for the 49ers in Deebo Samuel’s absence?
Aiyuk is the logical choice here. The 49ers used a second-round pick on the former Arizona State standout back in April. In two years with the Sun Devils, Aiyuk had 98 catches for 1,666 yards and 11 touchdowns. With N’Keal Harry leaving for the New England Patriots in 2019, Aiyuk shined with 65 grabs for 1,192 yards and eight trips to pay dirt. The dude can play!
The 49ers are lucky to have arguably the best tight end in football in George Kittle for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to throw the ball to. Given Shanahan’s track record for using the run to open up the pass with his family’s zone blocking scheme, the 49ers are in a better spot schematically to offset Samuel’s early-season than you would think. They did win the NFC last season after all.
Will Aiyuk have to step up? Of course, but so will Kittle, Garoppolo and the rest of the 49ers offense. Outside of Aiyuk internally, let’s look at wide receivers like Travis Benjamin or Dante Pettis to take on some more of the workload. Benjamin is a seasoned veteran, while Pettis is entering a prove-it year in season three out of the University of Washington.
Should the 49ers need to venture into the free agency pool, there are a pair of wide receivers who know Shanahan’s system well from their time together with the Atlanta Falcons. Justin Hardy is a savvy possession receiver, while Taylor Gabriel is the ultimate gadget guy as a No. 3 receiving option. Jordan Matthews also played for the 49ers a season ago. What about reinstatement-seeking Josh Gordon?
Ultimately, the 49ers drafted Aiyuk this high for a reason. They believe he can be a No. 1 or No. 2 wide receiver in this San Francisco offense for a long time. Given that Shanahan was a former wide receiver himself at the University of Texas, he has done a great job of getting the most out of that position group wherever he’s been. Just ask Gabriel what it’s like to play for him.
Aiyuk may not be ready for the big time, but now he has to step up in the wake of Samuel’s injury.