Coming off one of the most-productive rookie seasons for a wide receiver in 49ers history, there was every reason to expect Brandon Aiyuk would thrive in his second year with a quarterback situation set up for more success in the passing game.
Instead, in the first five games, Aiyuk’s production took a large step backward.
“We still very much believe in Brandon,” 49ers general manager John Lynch told NBC Sports Bay Area. “Brandon still very much believes in himself and us. We just got to put it all together. And the urgency of that, it needs to come.
“We have other people who are hungry and have earned opportunities, as well. And, so, we’re always going to put out the players who give us the best chance. But we do understand that it’s extremely important for us to have Brandon Aiyuk at his best for us to ascend to where we want to go.”
Last season, Deebo Samuel started just five games due to injuries, beginning with a broken foot in the offseason. Tight end George Kittle appeared in just eight games.
With few other options in the passing game, the 49ers needed Aiyuk to produce in his first NFL season after the club traded up to select him with the No. 25 overall pick.
Aiyuk appeared in 12 games with 11 starts, and caught 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns.
Like his rookie season, Aiyuk experienced a hamstring injury late in training camp this summer that impacted the early part of his season. As a rookie, Aiyuk immediately worked his way into a reliable part of the offense.
That has not been the case this season. In five games (four starts), Aiyuk has caught just eight passes for 90 yards and one touchdown. The team’s quarterbacks have targeted him just 15 times through the bye week.
Aiyuk, for all his talent, did not perform consistently in practices during training camp when he was healthy and appeared to be outworked and outperformed by others at the same position, most notably Trent Sherfield and Mohamed Sanu.
Sherfield caught a touchdown pass from Trey Lance in the season opener but saw a dramatic reduction in his playing time in subsequent weeks. Sherfield has just three receptions for 32 yards.
Sanu has the second-most catches among 49ers receivers, behind Samuel, with 10 receptions for 97 yards.
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The 49ers are counting on Aiyuk to make the necessary adjustments to once again become an important part of the offense. The club needs another receiver, besides Samuel, to become a legitimate threat.
“I know it’s critical for us to have him at his best for us to be at our best,” Lynch said of Aiyuk. “We drafted him where we drafted him for a reason. He’s an extremely talented young man. He’s an extremely hard-working young man.
“Sometimes you run into some speed bumps, and he did. His health in training camp, and we had other people playing at high levels. This league is about working through that.”