From time to time, the better player is pushed down the depth chart by an older (or veteran) player.
This holds true for Arizona Sun Devils stud Brandon Aiyuk, who exploded onto the scene after his teammate N’Keal Harry was drafted in 2019. Aiyuk made a successful transition from JUCO to D1 football and rose up draft boards throughout the 2019 CFB season, picking up awards for Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week and Conference Special Teams Player of the Week.
To cap off his dominant 2019 season, he was named first-team All-Pac-12 as both a wide receiver and a return specialist, after grabbing 65 receptions for 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns, while also returning 29 balls for 672 yards and a touchdown.
Aiyuk is absolutely phenomenal after the catch, wreaking havoc on defensive backs when he has the ball in his hands. He’s dominant when DBs play off-coverage, as he is extremely twitchy with a stop-start motor that rivals the top wideouts in this class. He threatens a house call on each and every vertical route run, showcasing strong hands and the ability to climb the ladder in contested catch situations. He uses his particular combination of play-strength and play-speed well, and will break open a game if you let him get into space. He has plus blocking ability, due to his footwork and usage of gravity center. Aiyuk will undoubtedly be a core special teamer and contribute plus skills to both kick and punt returns.
Best trait: Explosiveness.
Where Aiyuk is dominant in off-coverage, he struggles in press coverage. He’s not as physical as you’d like to see from your True “X” receiver, and that can cause him to be out-muscled at the line of scrimmage. As I mentioned before, Aiyuk has demonstrated strong hands, but being a JUCO transfer and only having one high-volume year, he struggles with concentration drops from time to time. You’d like to see him attack the ball in more situations instead of being passive, as well as work on his comeback routes. Handplay at the line of scrimmage could use some refining, as well as his footwork coming out of press coverage.
Worst trait: Playing out of press.
The Ravens clearly value speed on offense, since they drafted four guys in the last two years who run a 4.4 or better. Aiyuk has plenty of speed, while also offering a decent-sized frame as a threat outside. The Ravens seem to like Miles Boykin in the slot, and Aiyuk would give them the True “X” receiver that they missed all season.
James Jones (GB 2007-2013, 2015; OAK 2014) – Aiyuk and Jones are built in very similar fashion, though Jones didn’t possess the kind of open-space speed that Aiyuk displays. I expect Aiyuk to have a more fruitful career than Jones had, becoming a low-end WR2 by Year Two, where Jones was always JAG (just a guy). Aiyuk will likely struggle to find meaningful playing time early on in Year 1 as he works out his issues with press coverage and drops.
Mid-Late Round 2.
Aiyuk has watched his draft stock rise during the season, then stagnate while the nation drooled over guys like Jeudy, Lamb, Higgins, and Ruggs. It rose again after Jim Nagy’s comments, but settled back down since then. Barring a lights-out combine, Aiyuk is likely WR6 in the draft, which shouldn’t be seen as a knock on him considering how absolutely ridiculous this wideout class is.