Brandon Aiyuk’s fantasy outlook and projection for 2021

Primed for a potential second-year breakout, what is Brandon Aiyuk's fantasy outlook, and should you draft him at his current ADP?

One of the most dynamic receivers after the catch, the fantasy football outlook for San Francisco 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk is as high as any of the second-year receivers. Therefore, Aiyuk could be a steal at his ADP. With the 49ers hoping for better health across the board, especially the pass catchers, can Aiyuk maintain his role on the offense, or will the competition for targets cause him to disappoint at his current ADP?

Brandon Aiyuk’s fantasy outlook for 2021

Out of all the 2020 NFL Draft picks, Aiyuk to the 49ers was arguably the best in terms of fit and skill set to the team’s needs and scheme. In an offense predicated on getting playmakers in space, few fit that mold better than Aiyuk. And he quickly put his talents on display despite the suspect play at quarterback. He was even thrust in as the primary target when both George Kittle and Deebo Samuel were unavailable.

After a somewhat slow start to his career, Aiyuk set the NFL on fire from Weeks 7 through 15. Aiyuk averaged 7.5 receptions on 11.7 targets for 94.7 yards and 0.7 TDs per game. While playing in just six games during this span hurt his overall standings (WR19), his 20.8 points per game were the third-highest. 

Not only did Aiyuk play on 90% of the snaps, but he also received 31% of the team targets, 51% of the wide receiver targets, and 80% of the WR totals. In everyone’s favorite game of extrapolating small sample sizes, Aiuyk was on pace for 198 targets, 127 receptions, and 1,609 yards. Yeah, about that.

Aiyuk benefited from a depleted 49ers’ roster

There’s a major caveat to all of this — the absence of both Kittle and Samuel. Samuel was only active for three of those games, while Kittle was active for two. When both were in the lineup, Aiyuk saw his totals plummet, recording 16.3% of the targets, 15.8% of the receptions, 21.9% of the yards, and 11% of the touchdown share. 

Those totals are nothing to scoff at, but fantasy managers need to be certain of their expectations for 2021. Aiyuk is a nightmare in the open field and relishes contact. Some point to his willingness to invite contact as a potential red flag, noting he played in just 12 games. With that said, two of those were COVID-related, along with the team exercising caution in Week 1 due to a hamstring injury suffered in the preseason.

I see no reason Aiyuk can’t find similar success in 2021. And we cannot hold the situation he was placed in against him. If anything, that should be seen as a positive because it shows he has WR1 upside whenever given the opportunity.

Whether or not he ends up the best value between himself and Samuel is up for debate. However, given his stable fantasy outlook and the improved offense under Trey Lance, Aiyuk is a safe pick in the sixth round as a WR3/flex in 2021.

Fantasy projection

There are very few holes in Aiyuk’s game, and no one knows that better than head coach Kyle Shanahan. As arguably the best play-caller in the NFL, Shanahan knows how to get the balls in playmakers hands.

A prime example of skills plus opportunity coming together was Shanahan getting the ball to Aiyuk in the rushing game. Aiyuk turned 6 carries into 77 yards and 2 touchdowns. That only helps to raise his floor, as it’s likely we see more in 2021. The 49ers also love to run the “touch pass” — bringing Aiyuk in motion, hitting him with a pop pass, and letting his speed get around the corner. 

What will be interesting to see is how the dynamic changes once Lance takes over the QB role. The added rushing dynamic he brings is another factor defenses will need to consider. For Aiyuk, this can only be seen as a positive as he deserves the full attention of defenses. When it comes to projections, the issue for him is that there is a chance he ends up as the third option in the passing game.

Shanahan loves Samuel. His first game back from injury, even while Aiyuk was on his hot streak, Samuel saw a whopping 13 targets. 

Although Aiyuk will not see the massive target share he did during his dominant stretch, I believe he should be in the 20% target share range. That should be more than enough for him to be a quality fantasy player.

Current projections have Aiyuk at around 110-115 targets, 70 receptions, 900-925 yards, and 7 touchdowns, with another 100 yards and a score as a rusher.

Brandon Aiyuk’s ADP

According to Sleeper, Aiyuk is currently the WR26 with an ADP of 64.3 in PPR formats. In superflex formats, where quarterbacks see an increased value, he slides a bit to 77.3. On Fleaflicker, he is going as the WR23 at 62.8 ADP. Similarly, on NFC (a high-stakes fantasy platform), Aiyuk is the WR24 with a 53 ADP.

Should you draft Aiyuk for fantasy in 2021?

I love adding Aiyuk as my WR3 in PPR formats. I believe his WR26 ADP is about right, but it also leaves room for him to outperform this draft capital. Outside of maybe CeeDee Lamb, Aiyuk might be the second-year WR that is most likely to have a breakout season. The role, the skill set, the talent, and the scheme all mesh into the perfect player to target in fantasy drafts.

If you are unsure if Aiyuk will maintain his role in 2021, there is an option that takes the decision out of your hands. The easiest way to go about it is to draft that player who ends up the better draft day value. Odds are both Samuel and Aiyuk when on the field, are going to be in your starting lineup. I don’t believe you can go wrong either way, but of the two, Aiyuk presents the highest ceiling and best chance to finish as a WR2 in 2021.

Tommy Garrett is a Fantasy Analyst for Pro Football Network and is a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can read all of Tommy’s work here, listen to him on PFN’s Fantasy Football podcast, and check out his contributions in PFN’s free fantasy newsletter. Give him a follow on Twitter: @TommyGarrettPFN.