I have been fascinated with Brandon Aiyuk since he came into the league. The former JUCO/Arizona St. and first-round selection by the 49ers has all the tools to be a dynamic wide receiver at the NFL level.
However, we have yet to see Aiyuk fully break out into the WR1 category. Are we to believe Aiyuk will be a very good pro just outside of that top tier? Or is the real fun about to begin?
This is the most important question when valuing Aiyuk. If he is about to break out, you can jump in now for an affordable price. If this is the best we will get, you may be overpaying for a high-end WR2.
Let’s break down Aiyuk’s history, game, and outlook for the future. Is he a must-buy, a hold, or someone you should move away from while you can still fetch a solid return?
Aiyuk has been in the NFL for three seasons, and they have been a bit of a whirlwind. In his rookie campaign, he finished as WR33 in 0.5 PPR on the season. But, due to some injuries, Aiyuk only played in 12 games that season. In points-per-game, he was 17th amongst WRs.
Finishing as a top-20 receiver in PPG, Aiyuk was being drafted as WR20 before the 2021 season. But the Sophomore year campaign got off to a rocky start. Aiyuk was in on less than 70% of snaps in the Niners’ first six games.
Later discussed as Head Coach Kyle Shanahan believing Aiyuk needed more coaching, preparedness, and practice as an NFL receiver, Aiyuk has since exited that “doghouse” he was supposedly in. In an article from NBC Sports in November of last year, Aiyuk had this to say about what was happening at the start of the 2021 season:
“I think [Shanahan’s] thing that he tells me now, he felt I was never really coached the way I should have been coached as a receiver. Everybody tells you you’re just the best thing ever your whole life, getting recruited and this and that. So you never really fully understand what it is to be coached by a professional. I guess you can call it being ‘hard on’ or ‘doghouse’ or whatever you want to call it.”
After the “doghouse” days early in 2021, Aiyuk went on to be WR14 in 0.5 PPR from Week 8 to 18. Not a bad way to get back on your coach’s good side. Racking up the yards and catches after getting back on the field for a steady set of snaps.
Last season, Aiyuk was once again a consistent target for what was a wild QB ride in the bay area. Catching passes from Trey Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Brock Purdy, Aiyuk was the team’s most consistent receiver. He ended the year leading the team in targets (114), receptions (78), and receiving yards (1015) and was second on the team with eight receiving touchdowns.
All of this led to Aiyuk finishing as WR15 in 0.5 PPR. He was only ten points off from finishing as a WR1 in 2022.
Aiyuk has had three really great seasons in the NFL, minus the start of the 2021 season in Shanahan’s doghouse. But can he take that success and go further with it in 2023?
Well, the first question that will come with Aiyuk’s success is who will be starting for the 49ers in 2023. The rumors are that, if healthy, the starting QB job is Brock Purdy’s to lose. Purdy was a sensation for the 49ers at the end of the 2022 season. And he started building chemistry with Aiyuk the longer they played together.
In the final three weeks of the regular season, Aiyuk was targeted 24 times by Purdy. With Purdy attempting 77 passes in those games, Aiyuk had a 31% target share. Obviously, this is a very small sample size, but that is encouraging for any Aiyuk owner.
Additionally, Aiyuk is on a high-powered offense run by one of the best offensive minds in the NFL in Shanahan. With Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Christian McCaffrey all as other weapons within the offense, defenses are spread pretty thin whenever playing the Niners. Aiyuk will continue to get opportunities to excel in this offense as a receiver. Defenses can’t afford to double-team or throw additional coverage at him.
I believe it is very achievable for Aiyuk to be in the top 20 wide receivers in 2023. And the chips could fall for him to get into the late WR1 range. Aiyuk is a skilled receiver who consistently gets his share of targets and receptions. It wouldn’t take much more to excel into that WR1 tier.
What surprises me about Aiyuk is how low his value continues to be in fantasy football. Even amongst our rankings on Dynasty Nerds, Aiyuk is coming in at WR36 overall in dynasty and WR27 in Contender rankings.
Then, going to the trade browser, it is even more surprising. Check out some of these real deals involving Aiyuk in the Dynasty GM Trade Browser:
The WR15 in standard, 0.5, and full PPR last year is getting moved for a couple of second-round picks or for a second and third-round pick in value in several leagues. Now, this isn’t every league. This is only a selection of deals currently in the trade browser. But there are owners and leagues out there that have Aiyuk severely undervalued.
Aiyuk just turned 25. He very easily can have another three to four years of production. And his value, by some, is a couple of coin-flip picks in rookie drafts. If this is where the manager in your league is valuing Aiyuk, go make a move today. This is an easy buy low price for a player with the talent to finish in the top-12.
While questions still remain about how much production Aiyuk can get while being in a crowded San Francisco offense, there are no arguments about the fact that Aiyuk is a WR talent. With over 2,700 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns in his short three-year career, Aiyuk is, at worst, a WR2 and has the upside that can put him in the WR1 realm.
Aiyuk led the Niners in targets and receiving yards a year ago and has become a trusted piece in their offensive game planning. Finding players like this in an offense as potent as San Francisco’s should not be all that easy. But with Aiyuk, it seemingly is not that costly.
I believe Aiyuk is set for another productive season in the Bay, and I fully expect him to be a consistent producer for fantasy teams. Additionally, I believe Aiyuk could be a player you buy low on now that becomes a difference-maker for you in the 2023 season. His floor is already high, but the ceiling is there for Aiyuk to be a WR1.
When it comes to gambles, Aiyuk is a relatively safe one. The likelihood of a complete bust is not high at all, so all the upside is just icing on the cake. Grab Aiyuk now for the price of a WR2 and reap the benefits later if he takes off in 2023.
Am I way off-base? Should Aiyuk be a buy, or should you try to move him? Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @timbmartens, and let me know what you think!
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