49ers' Brandon Aiyuk proving he can handle spotlight in third NFL season

Aiyuk proving to 49ers he can handle spotlight in third year originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

As the No. 1 receiver on the field for the 49ers at SoFi Stadium, Brandon Aiyuk proved the spotlight is not too much for him to handle.

Without teammates Deebo Samuel and Jauan Jennings available to play in Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Rams, pressure to pick up the slack was on Aiyuk. The longest-tenured receiver on the offense that day, Aiyuk stood up to the challenge, participating in 52 snaps -- all but one of the 49ers' offensive plays.

The Arizona State product caught all six of his targets including a touchdown pass from his new teammate, running back Christian McCaffrey.

“The pressure was put on Aiyuk that we were going to rotate the other guys more,” Shanahan said Monday. “We thought he was conditioned enough and was playing consistently enough that he could stay out there longer, and he rose to the occasion.

“Sometimes when guys get too many reps, their play gets sloppy and they pick and choose when to go and when not to, trying to conserve energy. And that wasn’t the case with BA. He’s conditioned to handle that and he handled it well.”

Aiyuk was on the field predominantly with position mates Ray-Ray McCloud, who was on the field for 30 offensive snaps, and Willie Snead IV, who was on the field for 21 offensive plays. Rookies Danny Gray (five offensive plays) and Tay Martin (one) made brief appearances.

What might be even more impressive about Aiyuk’s third NFL season is how much of a leader the receiver has become off the field. Upset about the club’s sloppy Week 7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the former first-round pick called out the entire team to play cleaner with less mistakes and penalties.

Aiyuk also has proven to be very valuable on the field when the ball isn’t in his hands.

“One of my favorite plays in the game versus Kansas City was the way he blocked on a linebacker,” Shanahan said. “Just how he kept going all the way through the whistle. He’s been letting the game come to him and it eventually has these past few weeks.

“He’s gotten a number of opportunities and he’s made the most of each one.”

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Aiyuk has appeared in all eight of the 49ers' games this season, catching 38 of his 55 targets for team-high 483 yards and four touchdowns. The wideout’s 69.1-percent catch percentage this season is a career best.

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