Brandon Aiyuk: “I’m In Top Tier Of 2020 WR Class”

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS — After missing the 2020 Reese's Senior Bowl to a minor groin injury, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk feels like many have forgotten about him in this loaded wide receiver class. 

Now fully healthy, Aiyuk plans on participating in every drill at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, hoping to remind people of the speed and explosiveness he put on display for the Sun Devils in his senior season.

Aiyuk's breakout year included 65 catches for 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns. The most staggering number, however, is his average of 10 yards after the catch — Aiyuk attributed it to his running back background coming out of high school. It was the kind of season that put him on the first-round radar and a make-or-break one for his draft stock.

“People didn’t have that many expectations of me,” Aiyuk said Tuesday. “As soon as N’Keal [Harry] left, I understood what time it was. I understood I had one year to get things right and show myself.”

Aiyuk added those same doubts have resurfaced now about his profile as one of the draft's top receivers, saying no one believes he belongs in the same group as players like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and CeeDee Lamb.

However, after checking in at 6-foot-0, 205 pounds with a wingspan equivalent to a 6-foot-9 power forward, Aiyuk feels he is the complete package.

“I know people have questions about me getting a jump ball, but with my vertical and that wingspan, I feel like I’m no different than anyone who is 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4,” he said.

Aiyuk was tasked with replacing Harry — the New England Patriots’ 2019 first-round pick — as Arizona State’s top wideout. Instead of being known simply as Harry’s replacement, Aiyuk said he had to make changes to his game over the offseason. He worked with Harry and asked him what the NFL looked for the most at the receiver position.

“He said the biggest thing is separation,” Aiyuk noted. “So that was a huge thing I worked on in the offseason: to define my route running and being fluid in and out of my breaks.”

Playing two seasons at Sierra College in California before enrolling at Arizona State, Aiyuk still has so much more room to grow as a receiver, which speaks to his overall upside compared to the rest of the class.

“Coming from junior college, it’s a lot of one-on-one football,” Aiyuk said. “You don’t really have to identify coverages; you don’t really have to do much but just beat the guy in front of you. Once I got to Arizona State, it got a little different for me. I could identify defenses from the snap and that mental aspect is something I feel like improved the most in my senior season.”

For a player who is still relatively new to facing press man coverage and reading coverages, you wouldn’t think that he would be able to put up the numbers he did in his senior season. You cannot teach his speed at the top of routes, explosiveness after the catch or outstanding reach at the catch point. That is what separates him from most wide receivers in this class, and all of the skills Aiyuk is lacking are undoubtedly coachable.

Aiyuk mentioned in his first statement at the combine that he is a top-tier receiver in this class, but running fast and jumping extremely well Thursday won’t confirm that. That would just check those boxes. 

What Aiyuk needs to show is that he is able to move with quickness and fluidity in his transitions throughout a full route tree. If he can show that his freakish explosiveness translates into a dangerous route running package, Aiyuk will rise into that upper echelon of 2020 wide receivers that he believes he deserves to be in.