Sun Devil Star: Brandon Aiyuk has huge NFL upside

Photo: USA TODAY Sports - Joe Camporeale

Off to a hot 3-0 start, the Arizona State Sun Devils look primed to make a PAC-12 championship run this season under Herm Edwards. They won a slug fest last week against Michigan State, proving that they can win against different styles at different paces. However, the most impressive aspect of the Sun Devils’ offense so far is the output they’re getting from senior wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. He has led the team in receiving each of its first three games, and I think there is still more room to grow. 

Ranked as one of the top JUCO wide receivers, Aiyuk joined Arizona State last season as a junior, but as you may have expected, his opportunities were overshadowed by N’Keal Harry. However, his best performances came at the end of the year, including a 100-yard performance against a ranked Utah team, as well as a nine-catch game against Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. This showed the coaching staff that he could potentially replace Harry’s production as the top receiver in this offense in 2019. So far, he has done just that. 

With 302 yards in three games, Aiyuk is averaging 23.2 yards per catch, which ranks in the top five of all power-conference wide receivers. But I don’t need his box score numbers to tell you he is a bonafide deep threat. His tape tells the story. 

Aiyuk has the deep speed to make any given play a house call, but he has a lot more nuance to his game than I think a lot of people realize. He is incredibly deceptive and savvy with his release package to keep himself free. Once Aiyuk accelerates past the cornerback to create separation, he has a natural feel of how to track a deep ball. This play would’ve been six if the ball was thrown properly. 

At 6’1, 195, Aiyuk also plays with excellent pacing as a route runner. He has great feet and impressive sharpness in and out of his breaks. But it his ability to keep defenders guessing by effectively selling that impresses me each time I turn on the tape. Once again, Aiyuk perfectly tracks the deep ball, adjusts his path, and finishes the play at the catch point for a huge gain.

The one trait of Aiyuk’s skill set that scouts are most intrigued with is his playmaking ability after the catch. As you can see here, his lethal speed makes him a threat on any given play. But it’s also his ability to make defenders miss in the open field with quickness and physicality. Aiyuk just blows by the defense here, but he plays a physical brand of football that most speedsters don’t offer. Whether that’s fighting off arm tackles and keeping his balance after contact, or bringing the fight to open-field tacklers with a stiff arm, Aiyuk is the complete package when it comes to YAC value.

My comparison for Aiyuk is Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup. Similarly sized to Gallup, Aiyuk has a unique blend of physicality, speed, and route savvy to separate against both man coverage and open-field tacklers after the catch. Like Gallup coming out of Colorado State, Aiyuk needs to get better at consistently finishing at the catch point as focus drops are a concern. But make no mistake, the arrow is pointing up for Aiyuk, and I believe his skill set provides a strong combination of NFL readiness and upside that no other PAC-12 senior wide receiver offers in this 2020 class.