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Countdown to 2021 fantasy football drafts: Brandon Aiyuk No. 60

Brandon Aiyuk comes in at 60 in our fantasy football rankings countdown to the 2021 NFL season.

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the second quarter at ATT Stadium. Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers are known for their running game and defense while their passing game sometimes looks more like an extension of their running game. Last season they lost their starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to injury along with a huge percentage of starters, but one breakout was rookie Brandon Aiyuk. Can he backup his strong debut this season?

To commemorate the 2021 NFL season, we’ll be counting down the 75 best fantasy football players in the league. Picking a Top 75 is subjective, especially when you are projecting a whole season of accumulated fantasy points, but that’s part of the fun. We’ll assume what I see as an average league, which is 12 teams, .5 PPR scoring and a roster of 1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1TE, & 1RB/WR/TE. Kickers and defenses need not apply.

Change is the nature of the NFL beast, so trades and injuries will likely impact this list as we go along, but hey, this isn’t rocket science. We’re here to have a little fun and build up some much needed anticipation for a league cast in the shadow by baseball, soccer, hockey, etc. Sarcasm aside, the NFL is addictive and we’re here to give your daily fix as we close in on the season.

The official and often updated fantasy football drafting tiers can be found here.

No. 60, Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers, WR

Aiyuk only played in 12 games his rookie year, but caught 60-of-97 targets for 748 yards and five touchdowns. A full season would have had him right up to 1,000 yards and 80 receptions. He also saw a huge number of his targets from the likes of Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard, two quarterbacks who aren’t even on the team this season.

Competition for touches

The reason Aiyuk is as high on this list is his lack of competition for targets and likely upgrade at the quarterback position. The 49ers didn’t add any competition to Aiyuk’s likely No. 1 receiver position. Yes, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle will return and hopefully be healthy, but Aiyuk can only be helped by a better overall offense.

Team offensive expectations

The offense under Kyle Shanahan has high expectations, even without knowing if rookie Trey Lance or veteran Garoppolo will get the start. They will again be run oriented, but efficiency is the name of the game in San Francisco. Give any receiver 120 targets in that offense and you will see fantasy production and if Trey Lance can get going early, watch out.

What’s his upside?

Aiyuk, if healthy, can put up huge numbers in the 49ers offense. His ability after the catch makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field and Shanahan can scheme him into open space often in an offense which will move the ball. If we add in Lance and his ability to put pressure on defenses with his legs, things open up even more for Aiyuk.

What’s his downside?

Aiyuk’s downside is tied to his physical running style. Like most of the 49ers receivers, Aiyuk can run like a running back after the catch, but that also exposes him to more hits and injuries. Playing a full 17 games feels like a long shot for any 49ers starting pass catcher this season. If injuries are coupled with Lance not winning the starting job, Aiyuk has a real chance of not living up to his upside.

Projection

80 receptions, 115 targets, 1000 yards, 7 touchdowns