This time last year, there were more questions than answers surrounding Ayuk’s play – apparently set in the famous Shanahan “kennel.” He fell behind on the depth chart and didn’t find himself playing much pickup early in the season. Despite the slow start, Aiyuk finished the season strong and actually had more receiving yards and the same amount of touchdowns in his second season as the first.
Coming into his third season, I’m very optimistic about Brandon Ayuk’s prospects in this attack, especially considering the move to Tre Lance in the middle. If you’ve followed either Lance or Aiyuk on social media, it’s clear the two share a bond that extends beyond the football field — including a recent trip to San Diego, California, where they had a throwing and brunch session with the 49ers’ brass .
Lance’s ability to push the ball out of the numbers and down the field will boost Aiyuk’s numbers even more. Last season, Lance’s 15.5 percent of passes exceeded 20 yards, and he showed a 45.5 percent completion rate on those attempts. Aiyuk will be a direct beneficiary of Lance’s ability to hit passes all over the field.
You still don’t believe me? Kyle Shanahan spoke at length on Wednesday about Brandon Ayuk’s growth this season:
And I think that was the cool thing I heard from Brandon [Aiyuk] Because junior season was the year of COVID. And so he didn’t have anything off-season. He just showed up here and we didn’t even know until about two weeks before he showed up if we were in a season or not, so he was a little late and then training camp was a joke for the whole league. And so the season was kind of weird, and then a lot of people got injured and he had to play a lot, but that’s all he knows with the NFL. So his experience is man, it kind of pops up and starts all year long and people say I’m going to be one of the better players next year. And he has that ability, but he thought that was the NFL. And the next COVID is still out of season, we didn’t have the right rules. And he didn’t know he had to do anything until camp, so he came a little late. And he’d say, “Man, this camp is tougher than last year.” It’s like yeah, last year it wasn’t camp. And then you enter the season and he’s a man, that’s different. And I think Brandon, instead of blaming others and making excuses, worked and didn’t say much, just kept going to work. And he’s a smart guy who’s perceptive and he’s learned, wow, that’s true. This is completely different. Oh man, I’ll be ready for year three, because year two was really a rookie year and that’s why he’s so far ahead at the moment. And sometimes men have to be cut to learn it. And that’s what you hope men won’t have to do, but men have to learn somewhere.”
Kyle Posey attended the first bootcamp practice on Wednesday morning and watched Ayook shoot a contested three hits and argued that he should be able to push Debo Samuel this season as this team’s leading passer.
I think Ayuk’s chemistry with Lance during the break, combined with the fact that he’s progressing in this bootcamp compared to last season, should lead to an increased workload and production.
It was easy for Ayok to go the way of Dante Pettis, the former 49er second-round wide receiver who also struggled in his sophomore season, but he never bounced back and found his place in the 49th. Instead, Ayok has somehow harnessed the struggles and used them to fuel his biggest comeback of the season.
It’s never too late – but it’s time to buy all of Brandon Aiyuk’s stock available before it sells out.