Three years ago, Brandon Aiyuk was playing football for Sierra College. At the time, the junior college in Rocklin, California, was the alternate option for the talented receiver out of Robert McQueen High School in Reno, Nevada.
After two years of polishing his skillset and putting it on display, the college offers started to pile in. According to 24/7 Sports, he was a three-star recruit as a JUCO transfer and had offers to Colorado State, Kansas and Tennessee. Once the offer came in from Arizona State, it was clearly the best fit for him and skillset. However, head coach Herm Edwards really liked the idea of Aiyuk playing defensive back.
Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they kept him in the right place. Almost 100 receptions, 1,666 yards and 11 touchdowns later, we’re talking about Aiyuk in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Two short months ago, he was discussed as a first round pick. Now there’s been some uncertainty because of great NFL Scouting Combine performances from Justin Jefferson and Denzel Mims. Don’t let anyone fool you. “The forgotten one” is still good and legit first round option for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Explosive after the catch
When you get beyond Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs and CeeDee Lamb, there might not be a more explosive wide receiver after the catch than Aiyuk. Last season, he was the fifth best wide receiver in yards after the catch with 709 yards.
On the play above, it’s a prime example of the type of explosiveness that’s possessed from Aiyuk. He gets the cornerback to believe he’s going to run vertical but then breaks toward the middle of the field with a 7-yard slant route. The ball quickly meets his hands and he’s off to the races for a touchdown.
Much like the previous play, it’s another touchdown for him on the play above. Rather than the 7-yard slant route, it’s a post route at 10 yards. He does a terrific job selling the vertical stem and getting the cornerback to take his momentum towards the sideline. Once Aiyuk knows he can sustain inside leverage, he makes that break at 10 yards and is met with the pass.
Designed bubble screen
Most times when you watch the Sun Devils’ offense, you’ll see designed screens toward Aiyuk. It makes sense for them to do so as he’s able to do so much after the catch. We all know speed skills and it’s always the best idea to get the ball in the hands of your playmakers. That’s why Aiyuk saw 19% of the targets in 2019 (73 targets out of 382 passing attempts).
On the play above, you can see Aiyuk get the designed screen pass thrown his way. Downfield, he has two key blockers with the Sun Devils having the numbers to the boundary or short side of the field. They’ve got three wide receivers (trips left) matched with two cornerbacks and a safety over the top. Once the ball is snapped, he gets the ball behind the line of scrimmage (LOS) and runs upfield for an additional 7 to 8 yards.
Good tracking and adjustments to the ball
Most wide receivers aren’t getting to play with elite quarterbacks. Therefore, they’re not able to get that perfect pass into their hands. With that, wide receivers need to be able to track and adjust to the football. Aiyuk does a really nice job tracking the football and adjusting to it.
Watching the play above, there’s plenty of positives from Aiyuk despite running high through his route. He fights off contact from the cornerback and then splits between that cornerback and safety. Despite all of that, he’s still able to track the football and haul it in for the touchdown. These are the types of plays that are going to help him win a teams fanbase.
The play above is just an impressive adjustment from Aiyuk and it’s for a first down, too. He gets up the sideline and as he turns back towards the quarterback, he finds the ball and makes a great adjustment on the ball. These types of caches are going to be key for the young receiver on plenty of passing downs, especially third down.
Playing back to the quarterback
If you haven’t watched Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes play football, you’re missing out. Furthermore, you probably haven’t seen them improvise on the run and extend plays out of the pocket to make terrific throws downfield. Certainly, their skillset helps them make these plays but they also need wide receivers they come back to them. That’s exactly what Aiyuk does and can do for the next quarterback he plays with.
As you can see on the play above, Aiyuk gets pressed at the line-of-scrimmage and initially, he struggles. Once the cornerback opens his hips, Aiyuk bursts upfield and then breaks toward the middle of the field. The quarterback breaks out of the pocket and starts to scramble but Aiyuk helps by playing back to the quarterback. The pass is completed for the first down.
The more you watch of Aiyuk, the more you become a fan of his skillset. Starting with his route running ability, he’s can make some improvements but he’s still good in this area. He’s shown that he can beat linebackers and shows good movement with his lower body when breaking towards the middle of the field. More often than not, he struggles with press corners and has shown a tendency to run high when working his way upfield.
Aside from that, he’s an explosive playmaker and he’s going to have plenty of production after the catch. To cap all of that off, he’s pretty sure handed. Despite only having five drops in 2019, he only had a 6.8% drop percentage (per SIS) and that percentage is tied with Lamb.
Not only will he play on the outside or in the slot as a receiver, he also brings some value to special teams as a returner. He also had 672 return yards (punt and kick returns) on 28 total returns.
After watching five games on the talented wide receiver, I ended up giving him an early second round grade on my big board for the 2020 NFL Draft. There’s a chance that he falls out of the first round but if he ends up going on the opening night of the draft, he’d make plenty of sense for teams like the Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers. He fell off the radar early in the draft process due to a hip injury but there’s no reason to forget him now. Be sure to keep tabs on this talented wide receiver.