I wanted to preview the 49ers pass catchers this season and dive into who will lead this team in targets. While there is a clear top three, the next two pass catchers are harder to pinpoint.
Here is my 2021 preview for who will lead the 49ers in targets by the end of 2021.
5. Kyle Juszczyk
San Francisco committed for the long term to Juszczyk when they signing him to a 5-year deal - making him the highest-paid fullback in the NFL. He is the best at his position and is the 49ers' smartest player on offense.
Between 2019 and 2020, “Juice” has combined for 54 targets and 39 catches. In 2020 he averaged 10.6 yards per reception.
Given all the 49ers pass catchers who have left the team, he should get more targets.
The 49ers need to find a way to get him more involved, a tight end may be a young quarterbacks best friend but a full back (who’s like a tight end) can be great as well.
4. Jauan Jennings
During the offseason, the 49ers were able to retain most of their key starters on both sides of the ball. But they lost their most consistent and dependable receiver in Kendrick Bourne to the New England Patriots in free agency.
Bourne was second last season on the team in targets with 74 and missed just one game due to Covid last season on the Thursday night game vs. Green Bay.
The 49ers selected their second receiver in the 2020 NFL draft - Janan Jennings in the seventh round. In college Jennings gained more than 2,000 yards in his career and 18 touchdowns. Jennings did not appear for the 49ers last season.
Going into the NFL draft, he was poised to be a big-bodied slot receiver at the next level and he was excellent at shedding tackles and gaining extra yardage. In 2019 he caught the ball 59 times and had 29 broken tackles along with 17 20-plus yard gains.
Considering the circumstances rookies endured -- with no rookie minicamp and a season all over the place -- it’s easy to understand how the adjustment to the NFL could have been tough.
3. Deebo Samuel
Last season Deebo Samuel suffered a foot injury prior to the season and missed significant time in 2020. He played in only seven games for the 49ers in 2020.
In his rookie campaign Samuel finished second on the team with 81 targets and averaged more targets per game than Emmanuel Sanders (5.4 per game). Last year when he did play, he was averaging 6.2 targets per game.
While he will not get as many targets as the other two YAC Bros, he will still have a significant target share by the end of the season. The only reason he would not end up on this list by the end of the season is if he were to get injured.
Samuel is known for the yards after the catch ability, last season he actually accumulated more YAC yards than receiving yards (first time in NFL history).
2. George Kittle
Kittle has been the 49ers most important player on offense. He is a great weapon but he also gives them the edge in the run game with his blocking ability.
Kittle has averaged 7.7 targets per game the past two seasons. In 2020, he added on 10.1 yards per targets which ranked first for tight ends and 11th amongst all receivers.
Kittle has been a perfect scheme fit for what Kyle Shanahan wants to do the only problem is that he played 22 regular season games the past two seasons, with him missing eight games last season.
If he can stay healthy he should be right near the top of the 49ers target leaders for 2021. Unfortunately he tends to miss a few games, not saying he won't finish the season healthy but even in 2019 he missed two games.
1. Brandon Aiyuk
Last season, Aiyuk had a breakout rookie year for the 49ers. In a loaded rookie class at the wide receiver position Aiyuk ranked as the second-highest graded rookie in PFF behind Justin Jefferson.
Aiyuk played 12 games last season averaging eight targets per game and 7.7 yards per target.
Over a 17 game season, that's 136 targets, which would have ranked him 10th among pass catchers. It would also project him for 1,050 yards and 7 passing touchdowns.
Those are good stats. But considering the fact that he played five games last season with Jimmy Garoppolo and seven without him, he should be even better.
Brandon Aiyuk is on the verge of being an elite receiver and can succeed in any way you ask him. Just looking at his chart from reception perception, he graded above average compared to the rest of the league on every route except flats.
Aiyuk averages 12.5 yards per touch - he is a walking first down and the 49ers need to get him the ball even more.