Brandon Aiyuk: Fantasy Football's Best Kept Secret

May 30, 2023
Brandon Aiyuk: Fantasy Football's Best Kept Secret

In fantasy football, it is very hard to find a receiver who finished top 15 at his position in a season going in the sixth round of drafts the following year (barring any significant changes in situation). Yet, that seems to be the case with 49ers receiver Brandon Aiyuk in 2023. Aiyuk is currently being taken as the WR31 according to Underdog ADP despite finishing as the WR15 last year. Here’s a look at why Aiyuk could be an absolute steal at his current ADP.

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Career In Review

After being selected by the 49ers in the 1st round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Aiyuk has quietly put together quite a solid career thus far. He has improved his yardage totals each and every year of his career and has cemented himself in the 49ers offense after being stuck in the doghouse for parts of his sophomore season. Aiyuk had a breakout campaign of sorts in 2022, leading the 49ers in all major receiving categories while ranking top-25 in both PFF receiving grade and in yards per route run. He is also only 25 years old, and is already an elite route runner and one of the best receivers in the league after the catch.

Aiyuk in the 49ers' Offense

There’s no doubt that Aiyuk will face competition for targets in San Francisco—Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Christian McCaffrey are all arguably top-5 players at their respective positions. However, all three of them are far from the most durable players in the league and have each missed considerable amounts of time in their careers. Aiyuk, on the other hand, has only missed two games in his career due to injury. Even when all three of the other stars were healthy last season and playing together (a total of seven weeks), Aiyuk averaged 10.4 fantasy points and was the WR15 in those games. For comparison, Deebo Samuel was the WR30 in that same stretch. In short, Aiyuk has proven that he can produce alongside the elite talent around him and should be treated as the 49ers’ fourth star.

The main question mark surrounding Aiyuk is the quarterback situation in San Francisco. It is unclear when Brock Purdy can return from the UCL injury he suffered in the NFC Championship Game last year, so the projected Week 1 starting QB for the 49ers is Sam Darnold. While this would be an issue for 99% of other teams, Kyle Shanahan has made a living out of turning mediocre quarterbacks to look like stars. It is telling that the 49ers are favored in 16 of their 17 regular season games this year in spite of their quarterback troubles.

Aiyuk has also already produced with several average-at-best players throwing him the ball.

Brandon Aiyuk Stats by Quarterback (Per Game)
Jimmy Garoppolo Brock Purdy Nick Mullens Trey Lance
Targets 5.9 6.6 9.8 5.2
Receptions 4.0 4.3 6.0 3.2
Receiving Yards 52.9 58.1 70.3 57.2
Touchdowns 0.4 0.4 0.5 0

Darnold is a step down from these three, but perhaps not as much as you’d think. Last season, Darnold actually ranked eighth in the NFL in EPA per play after becoming the starter in Carolina in Week 12. He was also able to support D.J. Moore as a solid fantasy WR2 in that stretch. With a severely upgraded arsenal of weapons in San Francisco, Darnold should be serviceable with Shanahan in his ear. It’s promising to see that Aiyuk has succeeded regardless of the player under center in the Shanahan offense, and he should be able to continue that trend with Darnold.

Assessing Aiyuk’s Floor and Ceiling

To be honest, I really don’t understand why Aiyuk is going so low in drafts. He has finished in the top-36 all three years of his career but is only being drafted as the WR31. Coming off of a 1,000-yard season, it’s hard to imagine a world where Aiyuk doesn’t match that number in this offense barring injury. While he is technically the second option in the receiving room, it truly is more of a 1A/1B situation between him and Deebo Samuel. As long as he stays healthy, Aiyuk should be a low-end WR3 at worst, which is just a little lower than where he’s being drafted right now. At his best, he can easily finish as a top-15 option once again. Aiyuk might not see enough volume to be a bonafide WR1 every week unless Samuel, Kittle, or McCaffrey get hurt, but there is no reason for him to be going below unproven players like Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Drake London, and Christian Watson.

The Bottom Line

  • Aiyuk is an incredibly talented receiver who has produced in fantasy already, including a top-15 finish last year.
  • While he will face significant competition for volume in the 49ers' offense, he has been able to succeed in tandem with the other stars.
  • The 49ers’ quarterback situation is troubling, but Kyle Shanahan’s offensive wizardry should ensure that Aiyuk still sees enough volume to produce.
  • Aiyuk is a massive value at his current draft spot of WR31 and should aggressively be drafted there, as his ADP is far closer to his floor than his ceiling. He's currently 4for4's 25th-ranked WR in half-PPR scoring.
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