Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers

SI lists 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk among potential first-time Pro Bowl selections in 2021

Jun 23, 2021 at 7:41 AM--

Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated published his second annual listing of 10 NFL players who could earn their first Pro Bowl selection in 2021. San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk made the exclusive list, proving that expectations are high for the second-year player.

Aiyuk caught 60 passes for 748 receding yards with five receiving touchdowns and two rushing scores. Despite only appearing in 12 games, his receiving-yard total ranked No. 3 in franchise history among rookies, behind only Jerry Rice (927 in 1985) and Deebo Samuel (802 in 2019).

Aiyuk's receptions total ranks second among 49ers rookies to Earl Cooper's mark of 83 in 1980. In addition, the young receiver's five scores are tied for second in franchise history among rookies (Dave Parks had eight in 1964).

Aiyuk may also benefit from the high expectations for San Francisco this season. The team limped through an injury-plagued campaign in 2020, finishing with just six wins. However, the 49ers aren't that far removed from their Super Bowl LIV appearance, and much of that championship-caliber roster remains intact. Therefore, a strong playoff push could score points for Aiyuk both on the field and when it comes to Pro Bowl voting.

"Bet against the No. 1 receiver in Kyle Shanahan's offense at your own risk," wrote Orr. "While Deebo Samuel led the league in average separation last year, Aiyuk was still pacing right behind him, despite being asked to assume some more challenging roles within the offense that sometimes doesn't yield the same matchup opportunities. Still, this is a receiver drafted for a role that has been wonderfully productive over time for those who play it well."

Jimmy Garoppolo is slated to be the 49ers' starting quarterback when the team visits the Detroit Lions during Week 1. But, will that last the whole season? As a starting quarterback, Garoppolo has escaped September injury-free just once over his career. He missed 10 games last season.

San Francisco traded up for Trey Lance, who, for now, will sit and learn while Garoppolo runs the offense. Orr believes that Lance could create more opportunities for a receiver like Aiyuk, though.

"In addition, the 49ers could be upgrading at quarterback in the near future," Orr added. "At some point, the scheme will change and having a quarterback who adds his hand in the running game will also force teams to cover the 49ers differently. This could also lead to a higher ceiling for Aiyuk."

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