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Tim Heitman/Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Why Trey Lance will help 49ers receiver Brandon Aiyuk reach his full potential

May 8, 2022 at 4:28 PM--

Don't be surprised to see Brandon Aiyuk breakout with Trey Lance under center in 2022 for the San Francisco 49ers.

Just when many of us expected the Arizona State product to take a significant step forward in year two, he clearly began the year as an afterthought in the 49ers' offense. As a rookie, Aiyuk proved to be the perfect complement to star receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle hauling in 60 receptions, for 748 yards, and five touchdowns on 96 targets. Aiyuk also scored a pair of rushing touchdowns on six carries.

Last season, the 24-year-old Aiyuk only had 13 receptions on 23 targets totaling 141 yards over the first seven games of the season. Shanahan moderately acknowledged the slump early last year when asked if Aiyuk putting on some muscle in the offseason may have caused him to lose a step. Shanahan, in the most Shanahan way, replied, "maybe."

49ers receiver Brandon Aiyuk will reach his full potential with Trey Lance under center

The San Francisco 49ers expect big things moving forward, and perhaps a change at quarterback will help spark the former first-round pick in 2022. For a hot minute, I had some concerns that Aiyuk would become the next Dante Pettis, who flashed similarly as a rookie but never materialized into anything useful. Thankfully, Aiyuk was able to right the ship during the second half of last season, finishing the year with 826 yards on 56 grabs, and five touchdowns, averaging 14.8 yards per catch which is a good sign moving forward. Aiyuk earned a solid overall grade of 74.4 last season, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). It's also noteworthy that quarterbacks produced a stellar 119.4 rating when targeting Aiyuk.

Last season Aiyuk served as more of a decoy in Shanahan's offense, often running at least one defender deep down the field while trying to garner the attention of the deep safety. At the same time, Jimmy Garoppolo continued to attack the second level of the defense with Samuel and Kittle.

Love him or hate him, Garoppolo's skill-set is vastly different from Lance's. Garoppolo is a traditional drop-back passer who excels when the ball is delivered on time. Garoppolo likes to work the middle of the field and lacks the overall arm strength to stretch the field with the threat of a deep strike. Lance is the polar opposite; the second-year signal-caller is a dual-threat quarterback with a cannon for an arm.

Now, once Shanahan gets the zone running game cooking to compliment the mid-range passing attack, the 49ers will be able to take the top off the defense with Aiyuk likely singled up down the field. Lance and Aiyuk are already working out together in Southern California, building up that ever so important chemistry needed to succeed between quarterback and receiver.

I believe Aiyuk will benefit the most from a change at quarterback in 2022.
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