2020 NFL Draft: What Could Arizona State Receiver Brandon Aiyuk Bring to the Jaguars' Offense?
As the 2020 offseason progresses, JaguarReport is going to be taking extended looks of some NFL draft prospects who could theoretically make sense for the Jacksonville Jaguars at some point in April.
In this version, we examine Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, a prospect whose name has garnered more and more attention from media analysts as the draft draws closer. Does the explosive wide receiver and return man make sense for the Jaguars' offense if they were to target him in this month's draft?
Aiyuk spent the first two years of his college career dominating the junior college football ranks at Sierra College in Rocklin, Cali. A top pass-catching target and return man, Aiyuk completed his junior college career with 2,499 all-purpose yards and 21 touchdowns before transferring to Arizona State as a junior.
In Aiyuk's first season with the Sun Devils, the 6-foot-0, 205-pound wideout caught 33 passes for 474 yards and three touchdowns, along with 314 kick return yards on 14 returns. It was a solid start for the transfer, but 2019 is when Aiyuk truly became a household name.
In 2019, the senior wide receiver caught 65 passes for 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns, earning a place on the third-team Associated Press All-American squad, along with first-team All-Pac-12 honors. Aiyuk once again shined as a return man as well, returning 14 kicks for 446 yards and returning 14 punts for 226 yards and one touchdown.
Aiyuk does have one area for teams to monitor moving forward, as Mike Garafolo of NFL Network reported this week that the receiver underwent core muscle surgery this week.
What Brandon Aiyuk does well
The one area that Aiyuk truly dominated in during his time in the Pac-12 was his ability to pick up yards after the catch. Aiyuk is a stocky receiver who almost looks like a running back with the ball in his hands, and this frame combines with uncanny instincts and vision in space along with plenty of agility and explosiveness.
Due to the mix of these traits, Aiyuk is a threat to pick up yards and create a big play every time he touches the ball. Whether it is on bubble or smoke screens, drag routes, dig routes, or slants, Aiyuk is able to turn upfield in an instant and find space to work in. He is a dynamic ball-carrier who is always looking for an extra yard, and shows an ability to create that yardage with either elusiveness or by powering through tackles. In a scheme in which wide receivers are schemed into space, Aiyuk could be a Deebo Samuel-like player in terms of his ability to wreak havoc after the catch.
Thanks to his foot quickness and explosiveness in and out of breaks, Aiyuk is a ideal receiver to target against softer coverages. He can turn a vertical release into a slant in an instant when he isn't forced off rhythm at the line of scrimmage, and he could be the beneficiary to a lot of free yards off of simple concepts at the next level.
Aiyuk's best route is his go route, which helped him become a lethal deep threat for the Sun Devils in 2019. When tasked with stretching the field vertically, Aiyuk does a great job of throttling down on his release to lull cornerbacks to sleep before exploding past them. He tested with only a 4.50 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, but he has enough game speed to blow by cornerbacks and get enough separation for a quarterback to take a deep shot.
In terms of ball tracking ability, Aiyuk shows a good understanding of angles and timing of his jumps. He tracks the ball over his shoulder well and does a solid job at adjusting to back shoulder throws with good body control. Overall, he has a plus catch radius and showed the ability to catch passes outside of his frame, a good indicator for future success.
What Brandon Aiyuk needs to improve at
While Aiyuk does a good job of catching passes out in front or otherwise outside of his frame, there were instances where he was open but failed to bring in a pass that hit him in the chest. This could be due to him attempting to turn upfield and run with the ball before he actually caught it, but he will need to demonstrate more consistency at catching the passes he is supposed to catch.
As a route runner, Aiyuk has all of the physical traits to eventually excel, but he may need a fair share of help from his offensive coordinator when it comes to getting separation early in his career. Physical coverage, both at the line of scrimmage and downfield, throws off his rhythm and can make his routes look clunky as opposed to the smooth breaks he otherwise shows against off coverage. Using his hands to get open and to keep defenders out of his frame will be key to his development at the next level.
When Aiyuk is forced to come back to the ball against physical coverage, he has had some mixed results. While he is physical after the catch, he needs to ensure he is willing to mix it up with cornerbacks when coming downhill towards the quarterback to keep them from making plays on the ball.
As a whole, there is a lot to like with Aiyuk. He is a dynamic weapon after the catch who has shown an ability to win at the deep and short areas of the field, and he has a ton of special teams value.
As a kick and punt returner, Aiyuk offers a ton of enticing skills for the next level. He is able to elude defenders in space and frequently made the first man miss on each return, but it is his instincts that set him apart. He just seems to have a great understanding for where space will open up on the field before it actually happens, keeping him one step ahead of the coverage team.
The areas in which Aiyuk struggles, however, could mean that his landing spot is even more important than it could be for other receivers. He didn't run a full route tree at Arizona State, nor did he show a consistent ability to run a multitude of the routes he was asked to run. Press coverage will be an issue for him early on, though this could be coached up at the next level.
Overall, Aiyuk is an athletic and versatile wide receiver who could be used all over the formation by a creative play-caller. He has enough flaws to make it a serious risk if the Jaguars were to consider him at No. 20, but it would make sense for them to be interested at No. 42.