Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, 49ers Fantasy Outlook After George Kittle's Calf Injury

Adam WellsOctober 9, 2021

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 19: Wide receiver Deebo Samuel #19 of the San Francisco 49ers runs the ball after a catch during the second half in the game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on September 19, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

There was more bad news on the injury front for the San Francisco 49ers after tight end George Kittle was placed on injured reserve due to a calf injury.

Per NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco, the 28-year-old may return in Week 9 against the Arizona Cardinals.

Kittle's absence is going to cause a massive ripple effect in the fantasy world, where an already-thin group of tight ends is missing one of its most productive players. 

Prior to the injury, he was off to a slow start in San Francisco's passing game. He only had 227 yards and 19 receptions on 28 targets through the first two weeks. 

Kittle has been one of the few reliable receiving options at tight end over the past three seasons. The two-time Pro Bowler had over 1,000 receiving yards in 2018 and 2019. He played at a 1,000-yard pace in 2020 with 634 yards in eight games, but injuries caused him to miss half of the season. 

During that three-year stretch, the Iowa product has been the go-to receiving option for San Francisco quarterbacks. His slow start in 2021 has coincided with Deebo Samuel taking over as Jimmy Garoppolo's favorite target. 

Samuel's 282 receiving yards through the first two weeks this season led the NFL. He caught 15 passes on 20 targets during that span, and he currently has 490 receiving yards from 43 targets and 28 catches.

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This was the type of season expected of Samuel in 2020 after he had a successful rookie campaign two years ago, but injuries limited him to seven games. 

The 25-year-old's rise to prominence has come amid a series of questions about the other wide receivers on San Francisco's roster. 

The use of Brandon Aiyuk, in particular, was a great mystery in Week 1. He had all the momentum to become the Niners' No. 1 wideout after recording 825 yards from scrimmage and seven total touchdowns on 66 touches in just 12 games as a rookie. 

After the Arizona State product played just 26 offensive snaps against the Detroit Lions, head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters his limited usage was due to a hamstring issue. 

Aiyuk did play more snaps in Week 2 against the Philadelphia Eagles (38), but he only had one catch for six yards on two targets. His season-high for receiving yards came in Week 3 against the Green Bay Packers, but he only registered 37 yards, albeit with a touchdown.

One issue with projecting San Francisco receivers outside of Samuel and Kittle is how much the team relies on the running game. Shanahan called 66 runs to 56 passes through the first two weeks of the season. Only the New Orleans Saints (45.63) and Baltimore Ravens (44.4) had a lower percentage of pass plays during that span.  

However, some increased usage for the passing game over the last two games has seen the team rise to 24th in passing-play percentage.

Garoppolo isn't known for spreading the ball around. He will often lock onto his first or second read and try to force the ball in, even if the player is well-covered. 

Given how much trust the quarterback seems to have in Samuel right now, fantasy managers can expect him to keep playing at a high level.

Aiyuk's value should go up with Kittle out of the lineup, but wait to see how much Shanahan uses him before trusting him to be a reliable producer for your team.


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