Any chance of a second-year breakout season for Brandon Aiyuk seemed all but dead… that is until last week’s performance. After drawing only 15 targets through the first six games this season, Aiyuk saw a season-high seven targets in Week 8. In fact, he set season-highs in snap rate (88%), route rate (97%), and target share (25%). To be fair, the previous bar wasn’t all that high, but those numbers still signal an improvement.
While setting multiple statistical season highs is a great sign, Aiyuk’s rest of season outlook is still very murky.
First, we can start by looking at the QB situation going on in San Francisco. Albeit the sample size is small, the Niners offense has looked better with Jimmy Garoppolo than with Trey Lance. And because of the capital spent on Lance, the leash on Garoppolo could be short and the Niners could make the switch to the rookie if things start to go south.
Another issue that could hold back Aiyuk’s breakout is his role within the offense. He’s likely the third or even fourth option in a run-heavy offense that isn’t getting in too many shootouts. A small passing pie on a weekly basis is being dominated by Deebo Samuel. Samuel is boasting a massive 35.9 percent target rate (10 targets per game) and is accounting for 40.3 percent of his team’s air yards. This has largely been without George Kittle, who is eligible to come off of the IR this week and we know the role he plays in this offense. With Garoppolo averaging only 238 yards passing per game and Samuel averaging 117 yards receiving, that doesn’t leave much for Kittle and Aiyuk to both thrive.
On top of all of this, are you really ever going to be able to trust him?! Or maybe the better question is can you trust Kyle Shannahan? It seems like Aiyuk is out of the doghouse (hopefully for good), but we have no idea how long his leash is. Would it shock you if Aiyuk is thrown back in the doghouse?
Ultimately, I wouldn’t be prioritizing a stash of Brandon Aiyuk. Yes, he’s very talented, but given the style of offense, size of the passing pie, and his rank within the pecking order on this offense (behind Samuel, Kittle, and Mitchell), he remains a handcuff WR to Samuel. While Samuel is expected to play through a calf injury in Week 9, Aiyuk is a name to monitor, and in the event that Deebo can’t play this week, Aiyuk would become a smash play.
The Wolf is buying into Aiyuk’s Week 8 performance. He boosted the second-year wideout up to WR49 (+18 vs ECR) on his recent Rest of Season Fantasy Rankings update.