Six games into the 2021 season, 49ers wide receiver Brandon Ayuk remains the invisible man.
Ayuk was on the field for 40 snaps in the 49ers’ 30-18 loss to the Indianapolis Colts and just a pass goal from Jimmy Garoppolo, which he caught for a 6-yard advantage.
It continued a season-long trend where Ayuk has been missing out on a long-running bearish action on a team that could desperately use another threat at wide receiver to go with Deebo Samuel. Samuel leads the 49ers with 33 receptions for 638 yards.
Go ahead and assume that Arizona State’s No. 25 Ayuk in the first round also heard about it. Either that or General Manager John Lynch felt Ayuk would get the message during his weekly appearance on KNBR.
“There’s been a lot of buzz around Brandon because everyone saw his talent the first year,” Lynch said. “A lot of players run into second-year meltdowns. I don’t want to say ‘recession,’ but struggle. You have to fight through it. Brandon has practiced for a couple of weeks, and when you pile them up, So it turns into a game and you earn people’s trust and come to you.”
Actually, it would be correct to call it a recession. After a year of catching 60 passes for 748 yards in 12 games as a rookie, Ayuk has nine receptions for 96 yards and one touchdown in six games. He has been the target of just 16 passes, going from 8.0 goals per game to 2.7 in his second year.
12 receivers were drafted in the first two rounds of the 2020 NFL Draft. Aside from two who lost to injury (Jerry Judy and Denver’s KJ Hamler), only one – Denzel Mims of the Jets – has been targeted less frequently than Ayuk.
Considering that George Kittel didn’t tame the 49ers last week and Mohamed Shanu is their second-ending wide receiver with 11 receptions for 113 yards, the offense is with Samuel crying out for a playmate. Ayuk, 6-foot and 200 pounds, is back at a time when most NFL observers think he should flourish—in his second season in the system.
“You can’t trust just one guy and we won’t do that any more,” Lynch said. “We’ll get more people involved.”
Ayuk had slowed due to a hamstring strain that coach Kyle Shanahan said slowed his development. But Shanahan may have raised his hand during a production meeting with announcer Al Michaels and analyst Chris Collinsworth before a Colts game. On Air, Collinsworth quotes Shanahan as saying, ‘I love the kid, but he has to start grinding.
Shanahan skipped that part while speaking to reporters on Wednesday.
“I want Ayuk to keep getting better. I don’t think he is back where he was last year. And I expected him to be better this year than he was last year,” Shanahan said. “I think he’s still trying to get back to that point, which I think is closer to that point now than he was a few weeks ago because he’s working harder and trying to get there.” And if he continues to do so, I am sure things will get better for him and for us.”
49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel addressed the issue of root-running Thursday as it pertained to Ayuk.
“It’s something we’re talking about that needs to be developed,” McDaniel said. “To see it through the lens of a defender along each route to understand it. One of the fundamental fundamentals is to see all routes the same, starting with the go-route and going from there.”
Lynch told KNBR that there was not a single issue stopping Ayuk and insisted that there were still 11 games to play.
“It’s been a journey and no one is closing the door on that,” Lynch said. “I would worry if this guy fell off a cliff in terms of ability, and he’s not there. Or if the kid isn’t working, and he is. I hope his time is coming soon. Sunday is going to be good.” ”