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INDIANAPOLIS — The more you can do as an NFL Draft hopeful, the more likely it is a team will take a chance on you, especially early on.
That should be the case next month for Arizona State wide receiver and return man Brandon Aiyuk as the 2020 NFL Draft arrives on April 23.
The senior did damage for the Sun Devils in multiple ways in his two years on campus, as both an outside and inside receiver, after the catch, deep downfield, and as a kickoff and punt returner.
Aiyuk's college career began as a junior college prospect in 2016 at Sierra College. He was a big-time playmaker at that level of competition, being named a First-Team California Community College All-American as an All-Purpose athlete by the Football Coaches Association, as well as Region I First Team All-American honors as a wide receiver and all-purpose player.
Outgrowing the JuCo level, Aiyuk became a highly sought-after transfer, choosing Arizona State to round out the final two years of his collegiate career.
When arriving in Tempe in 2018, Aiyuk was behind former first-round draft pick N'Keal Harry on the depth chart, so he made his initial impact as a return specialist until he got his chance the following year.
When Harry left for the NFL after that season, Aiyuk took over and became the man in Arizona State's passing game. He really came onto the scene in 2019, earning First-Team All-Pac-12 honors as both a wide receiver and a return specialist. He caught 65 passes for 1,192 yards (18.3 avg.) and eight touchdowns as well as 14 kickoff returns for 446 yards (31.9 avg.) and 14 punt returns for 226 yards (16.1 avg.) and a score.
By season's end, he ranked first in the Pac-12 in both punt return and kickoff return average as well as second in receiving yards and third in yards per catch.
In his two seasons, Aiyuk totaled 98 receptions for 1,666 yards (17.0 avg.) and 11 TD in two seasons to go with 28 kickoff returns for 760 yards (27.1 avg.) and 25 punt returns for 293 yards (11.7 avg.) and one touchdown as a return man.
College won't be the end of Aiyuk's run, though. He's an incredibly enticing prospect for today's NFL.
His build is pretty average at 5'11-5/8" and 205 pounds, but he also has 33-1/2" arms and an 80-inch wingspan. At the Scouting Combine, he was one of only seven wide receivers with at least an 80-inch wingspan, which equates to 6'8".
"Playing above the rim. I measured in at 5-11, so I think the wingspan helps that out," Aiyuk told reporters at the Combine when asked how his wide wingspan helps him. "People have questions about getting able to go get the jump balls, but with the vertical of mine and my wingspan, I feel like it's no different than somebody being 6-3, 6-4."
Continuing with his Combine results, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.50 seconds and posted a vertical jump of 40.0 inches (tied-fifth among receivers) and a broad jump of 128.0 inches (tied-sixth among receivers).
On the playing field as a receiver, Aiyuk is versatile, able to line up all over the formation; on either boundary or in the slot.
"That was huge. I talked to the coaches and told them I wanted to play in the slot a little bit more this season because that adds value, versatility, being able to play outside and inside," Aiyuk said. "Being able to run the routes from the slot, not everybody can do that. Not everybody can go from outside to inside and inside to outside."
Starting from the ground-up, Aiyuk has quick feet and runs crisp, convincing routes featuring sharp cuts. He knows how to get leverage and uses a defensive back's momentum against him in order to get separation.
His balance and ability to drop his hips in his cuts leads to him being able to run a wide variety of routes from any of the spots where he lines up in the formation.
Aiyuk has strong hands and doesn't often drop balls that he shouldn't.
With the ball in his hands, he takes another step forward as weapon, nearly averaging 11 yards after the catch alone in 2019. He may actually be the best receiver after the catch in this draft in terms of all that he can do and not just being reliant on speed alone.
It is also why he's also so dangerous as a kickoff and punt returner. Aiyuk not only has the agility necessary to make defenders miss, but he also has great vision to find lanes that aren't immediately in the plan. He's also tough and fights for extra yards when attempts to tackle him are being made.
"With my running back background, I feel like after I catch the football, I transition back into that running back I used to be," Aiyuk said.
Although he doesn't have classic "burner" speed, Aiyuk proves that it's not all speed that matters when it comes to being a successful return man. He has the blend of enough speed, agility and vision necessary to weave through traffic and perform at a high level.
"I take a lot of pride in returning kicks," Aiyuk said. "My first year, when I wasn't starting at receiver, I was returning kicks, and this last year I still returned kicks even as a No.1 receiver, just because it's another part of my game that adds value to me. It's something that I like to do. It's something I feel I can help the team at."
Aiyuk wins a lot in contested catch situations, but he doesn't always necessarily attack the ball if the defensive back is in good position. If the defender is going to get physical at the catch point, they can probably throw him off, so he'll need to work on out-muscling defenders at the catch point.
To a much smaller degree, you don't always see much from Aiyuk consistently as a blocker in the open field. Considering he knows its importance, which helps in his success after the catch and as a return man, it may be something teams want him to improve on going to the NFL.
One big advantage that Aiyuk has on his side is that he's already spent the last couple of years in a pro-style environment under Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards, who previously was the head coach for the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL. The Sun Devils' co-defensive coordinators are also former Cincinnati Bengals head coach and one-time NFL Coach of the Year, Marvin Lewis, as well as former New York Giants Pro Bowl linebacker Antonio Pierce.
"From the moment Coach Herm came to visit me, he was talking about the pro model. That's exactly what it is at Arizona State," Aiyuk explained about playing for Edwards. "Every practice, every week, everything that we do over there is in preparation for the NFL. It definitely prepares us well.
"Twice a week I would sit in A.P.'s (Pierce) office and just talk about the other side of football, that people don't get to talk about a lot. There are a lot of things I didn't understand, didn't know, that were very helpful," Aiyuk continued. "Just the money side. Life expenditures, stuff like that."
Aiyuk having Edwards, Pierce and Lewis at his disposal in college didn't just help him learn how to be a pro, though. Edwards especially helped Aiyuk's game on the field.
"It was huge, especially with him playing corner (in the NFL) and him being a head coach, he was someone I could talk to," Aiyuk said about Edwards. "I'm like, 'Alright, Coach, when you're playing press-coverage, what's the first thing you're thinking?' He can answer just because he has that background in the NFL. And if he sees something in my release, he tells me, 'As a DB, I can pick up on that. Your arms are going dead so I know you're going to break.' Stuff like that."
FIT WITH THE COLTS
Aiyuk would fit with the Indianapolis Colts because they already have a need at wide receiver, but he especially fits what they look for specifically in a receiver.
Although they tend to go for receivers who are at least 6-0, he is just under that and has the wide wingspan, which is also another big trait that the team covets in most positions. Head coach Frank Reich also wants guys who can create yards after the catch, which is arguably the strength of Aiyuk's game.
Aiyuk is probably already further along in his development as a pro because of his time in college with Edwards and his staff, and Aiyuk can play any receiver spot in the lineup.
He can win in all areas of the field — screens, at the sticks, intermediate and all the way downfield. Aiyuk fits anywhere.
The Colts had issues with injuries at the receiver position last year, as Devin Funchess missed essentially the whole season, rookie Parris Campbell had various injuries throughout the year, and T.Y. Hilton, tight end Eric Ebron and Chester Rogers all missed good portions of the season.
The Colts are also facing some free agent decisions, as Funchess, Rogers and Ebron are all pending unrestricted free agents, as is veteran Dontrelle Inman, and Marcus Johnson (RFA) and Daurice Fountain (ERFA) are also facing free agency.
While many expect to hear Aiyuk's name called in the second round of the upcoming draft, Senior Bowl executive director Jim Nagy indicates it may be sooner.
"He's a first-round pick," Nagy told reporters about Aiyuk during Senior Bowl Week. "Everyone who I've talked to has him graded equal or higher than N'Keal Harry last year."
A historically deep class of wide receivers this year could provide Aiyuk at a discount, however. The Colts could be a perfect fit, as they have two picks in the second round, Nos. 34 and 44.
OTHER 2020 NFL DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILES
- K.J. Hill | Wide Receiver | Ohio State
- Jerry Jeudy | Wide Receiver | Alabama
- Derrick Brown | Defensive Tackle | Auburn
- K'Lavon Chaisson | Edge Defender | LSU
- CeeDee Lamb | Wide Receiver | Oklahoma
- Tristan Wirfs | Offensive Tackle | Iowa
- Neville Gallimore | Defensive Tackle | Oklahoma
- Jeff Gladney | Cornerback | TCU