NFL Draft: Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk an emerging star

Sometimes, all it takes for a prospect to emerge is the departure of another. Brandon Aiyuk is the latest NFL Draft prospect to follow in the footsteps of a former teammate on his path to the NFL.

In the NFL Draft, prospects often emerge from the shadows of other previous draft prospects. In recent years, players like Kyler Murray, Miles Sanders, Bryce Love, and Derrius Guice have followed behind prime NFL prospects. This year, Brandon Aiyuk will be one of those prospects, following in the footsteps of N’Keal Harry

Not too many scouts were on board with Brandon Aiyuk. Coming into the year with just 33 receptions, the former JUCO player was a relative nobody to the scouting community. It’s safe to say Aiyuk is on everybody’s radar after the start he has had to the 2019 season and has planted himself on many NFL Draft boards. PFN’s own Tony Pauline gave him a fifth-round grade over the summer, but I dare say he’s played much better than that this season. 

Here are Aiyuk’s stats from last season compared to this season. What a beginning to his breakout year. 

2018 season: 13 games, 33 receptions, 474 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns

2019 season: 5 games, 24 receptions, 455 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns

Aiyuk’s film is even more impressive than his stats are. He’s a do-it-all receiver. Aiyuk can line up in the slot or outside, he can take the top off of a defense with his explosiveness, he can dominate over the middle of the field with his length, and he’s slippery after the catch. A pleasant surprise in his tape was how developed he was as a route runner. One of my main hangups on Harry from last season was just how poor he was as a route runner. He labored to get off the line of scrimmage and never seemed to separate that way. 

Aiyuk doesn’t just separate from corners; he completely dusts them. Whether it’s with his speed or his route running, Aiyuk consistently finds ways to get open.

While this isn’t a jaw-dropping level of speed a la Henry Ruggs III or Hollywood Brown, Aiyuk still demonstrates an excellent level of explosiveness in this play. That speed helps Aiyuk make plays after the catch. Currently, Aiyuk has 308 yards after the catch and has also forced 9 missed tackles after the catch. He thrives on contact with the ball in his hands. Aiyuk will test very well at the NFL Draft Combine, if his tape is an accurate indicator of just how fast he is.  

Watch the breakaway speed after the catch here. Separation after the catch is just as important as before the catch. 

Aiyuk isn’t just a speed/YAC player, however. I mentioned above how he is a do-it-all player. While I wouldn’t classify Aiyuk as an “elite” route runner, especially in this NFL Draft class, there is a definite upside to his game in this aspect with traits to build off of. He can get in and out of his breaks fairly quick, and his change of direction is top-notch. He hasn’t faced a ton of press coverage, but he has beaten it with quick feet off the line. 

Another nice trait to see in Aiyuk’s game is the ability to track the ball and adjust. I have yet to see him drop a pass so far this season. He does a good job of staying focused on the catch and attacking the football. Aiyuk has good length at 6’1 and has phenomenal hands. Pay attention to this play below. 

Watch Aiyuk stop, extend, and attack the football that is completely inaccurate and behind him. Then watch how quickly he secures the catch and cuts upfield for the first down. It’s a great demonstration of the fundamentals of playing wide receiver. Team scouts are going to notice the little details of the play, and it’ll only help Aiyuk in the NFL Draft cycle.

Aiyuk is also a standout return specialist for the Sun Devils. Arizona State was the only D1 school to offer Aiyuk to play wide receiver and returner, so he took it. Just another feather in the cap for Aiyuk’s skillset. We often hear about how much NFL Draft scouts love versatility, and this only helps Aiyuk’s chances of being drafted high. 

I have been blown away by the early returns of Aiyuk this season, and he’s a big reason why the Sun Devils have been so successful this season. He’s a versatile playmaker who can line up all over. Aiyuk combines great size and athletic ability with good route running ability, giving him a complete package of skills to show off to NFL Draft scouts. 

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