Like every member of the 49ers, expectations were sky-high for Brandon Aiyuk heading into his rookie season.
Drafted with the No. 25 pick in the first round, Aiyuk was seen as the perfect fit in Kyle Shanahan's offense, with the speed to beat teams deep and the quickness to turn a 5-yard slant into a 50-yard house call. Aiyuk was solid during his 12-game maiden NFL voyage, catching the majority of his passes from Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard as Jimmy Garoppolo sat out with two different high ankle sprains.
Even more is expected of Aiyuk in Year 2, and 49ers legend Jerry Rice has high hopes for what the young wide receiver can become.
"I think he's going to come in and, you know, with a year under his belt he is going to be a better football player," Rice told NBC Sports Bay Area via Zoom from the American Century Championship. "His commitment, his route-running, he is very explosive downfield, he can catch the ball underneath, he can do it all."
In a recent social media post, Aiyuk showcased his incredible hands, hauling in a series of wild catches during his offseason training regimen.
While Aiyuk is expected to be one of the 49ers' top wide receivers along with Deebo Samuel, Rice believes the amount of competition in the 49ers' wide receiver room will be fierce in training camp.
"It's going to be very competitive between those wide receivers," Rice said. "It's going to be just like the quarterback situation [with Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance] too. Even, back in the day, you had to compete if you wanted to be that starter on the football field, you wanted to be that receiver, you had to earn it. So, yeah, I'm expecting that phase of the game to really be very competitive also."
In 12 games last season for the 49ers, Aiyuk caught 60 passes for 748 yards and five touchdowns. But like most of the 49ers, Aiyuk missed three games due to injury and one because he was deemed a close-contact risk for COVID-19.
Rice understands the 49ers were snake-bitten in 2020, but the Hall of Fame receiver doesn't think that's reason to excuse San Francisco's poor play. And he expects them to handle adversity better in 2021.
"I still don't make excuses," Rice said of the 49ers' injury-plagued 2020. "Even with injuries, that's just part of the game and you still have to find a way to win. I never played a season completely healthy, so it's going to have to be up to the commitment of those guys to be in the best shape they can possibly be in, then you have to have some luck on your side. Then, you go to go out there and control your own destiny. You got to win football games, you got to win football games at home and just give yourself the opportunity to get back to the playoffs."
The 49ers are expected to vault back into Super Bowl contention this season after a 6-10 campaign in 2020.
There's no doubt Aiyuk's ability to elevate his game will play a big role in the success of the offense this season.
But all eyes will be the quarterback battle between Garoppolo and Lance in training camp, with the 29-year-old veteran hoping to lead the 49ers on one last run to the Super Bowl before handing the keys over to Lance in 2022.
Make sure to tune into coverage of the American Century Championship on NBCSN and NBC Bay Area this weekend: Friday: 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on NBCSN Saturday: Noon to 3 p.m. on NBC Bay Area Sunday: Noon to 3 p.m. on NBC Bay Area