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June 28, 2022
NFL

Even in inconsistent 2021, Brandon Aiyuk excelled against press coverage

Pro Football Focus analyst Conor McQuiston often shares interesting leaderboards from his various investigations on his Twitter. Earlier this week, McQuiston posted a ranking of the top 10 pass catchers in 2021 in Yards Per Route Run against press coverage. Only one player on the list has never been selected to a Pro Bowl: San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk.

Top 10 WRs in 2021 in Yards per Route Run when Pressed

1. AJ Brown 3.93
2. Tyler Lockett 3.77
3. Justin Jefferson 3.42
4. Kyle Pitts 3.10
5. Cooper Kupp 2.98
6. Ja’Marr Chase 2.79
7. DeAndre Hopkins 2.78
8. DK Metcalf 2.77
9. Brandon Aiyuk 2.31
10. Davantae Adams 2.30 https://t.co/FTFZiSrR97

— Conor McQuiston (@ConorMcQ5) June 15, 2022

It was a strange 2021 season for Aiyuk. Aiyuk seemed poised for a breakout year after a promising rookie campaign. However, the 49ers former first-round pick got off to a slow start to the season where, despite head coach Kyle Shanahan’s denials, it seemed clear the coaching staff was frustrated with his development. By the end of the season, though, Aiyuk came on strong and finished the year with a career-high 826 receiving yards.

Even with his flashes, it’s surprising to see Aiyuk performing on the same level as the best pass-catchers in the NFL, ranking just above Raiders star Davantae Adams and behind Seahawks star D.K. Metcalf, Aiyuk is in some obviously impressive company.

Moreover, while 49ers players tend to rank above their talents statistically because of Shanahan’s impressive playcalling acumen, other 49ers (like Deebo Samuel and George Kittle) are absent from the top of the leaderboard.

With Samuel coming off a historically great season, the 49ers may need other wide receivers to step up if they want their offensive to maintain last year’s level of production. Aiyuk’s success against press coverage might be a sign that he’s poised for bigger production in 2022. Furthermore, Aiyuk was even more productive last season during Trey Lance’s limited playing time, seeming to quickly get on the same page with the North Dakota State product.

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