With Deebo Samuel seeking a new contract and absent from OTAs, the San Francisco 49ers are looking for one of their wide receivers to step up in case he's absent for an extended period of time. In comes Brandon Aiyuk, the 2020 first-round pick who had a strong finish to the 2021 season.
Aiyuk, who was in Kyle Shanahan's doghouse in the early part of last season, is showcasing the work ethic Samuel showcases every offseason. That's a sight the 49ers head coach likes to see.
"Each year guys have, you learn stuff from it and you learn how hard this league is and guys usually go one or two ways each year," Shanahan said at 49ers OTAs. "They realize, 'Man, I have to put more work in and prepare for that long haul, or, 'Man, that was exhausting and I'm going to avoid that as long as I can, until I have to come back again.' And usually the ones who get better and better are the ones who figure out what they have to do during the season and in the offseason to prepare them for that.
"And I think Brandon's done that each year. Deebo's been awesome with that stuff each year. And that's why usually veterans understand how to make it in this league a little bit better."
Aiyuk has been the ideal complement to Samuel over the course of his young career, but he's showing signs of becoming a No. 1 wide receiver himself. He finished with 56 catches for 826 yards and five touchdowns last season, even though 730 of those receiving yards game from Week 8 onward. Aiyuk was 10th in the NFL in receiving yards since Week 8 and 11th in yards per catch (15.53). His 10.74 yards per target average was fifth in the NFL in that span.
The 49ers know they have a good player in Aiyuk, who is becoming one of the leaders on a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
"I have to take that ownership and try to help the young guys, especially," Aiyuk said, via NBC Sports Bay Area. "I get to see now, last year and the year before, being the young guy, just understanding and kind of seeing a different view of what they want from me.
"It's really being coachable, understanding coaching and just understand that people telling you stuff are people that have been in this a long time. They've seen a lot. They've developed receivers or even other positions. It's being coachable."