Scouting Combine Receivers: Aiyuk Does It All
Part 1 of our six-part preview of the receivers includes Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk, Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden, Wisconsin’s Quintez Cephus and Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool.
Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State (6-1, 206): The junior-college transfer caught 98 passes during two seasons, including 65 receptions for 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns during an All-American senior season. He also averaged 31.9 yards with one touchdown on kickoff returns and 16.1 yards with one touchdown on punt returns in 2019.
Coming out of high school, most recruiting interest was on the defensive side of the ball. "I like having the ball in my hands,” he told AZCentral. “I think that's when I am at my best. I really wasn't interested in playing defense.” Still, at ASU, there was some discussion on which side of the ball he’d play. “I was watching the wide receivers,” Aiyuk told Rivals, “and coach Herm (Edwards) was joking around telling me ‘don’t get too comfortable over there with the receivers’ because he wants me to play defensive back.” He runs like a running back, piling up most of his yards after the catch. “Initially I was a running back,” he told The Athletic. I spent a lot of time there and then I moved to cornerback in high school with wide receiver being my second position. Then at JUCO, I played a little bit of defensive back as a freshman, but mostly receiver. And then as a sophomore, I was receiver-only. So my first year playing only receiver was as a college sophomore.” Aiyuk matured during his two years at Sierra College. “You don’t have much structure when going JUCO. No one is there telling you to go to class or get stuff done for school. It’s pretty much you vs. the world. And either you make it or you don’t.” He was picked for the Senior Bowl but didn’t play because of a hip injury.
Omar Bayless, Arkansas State (6-3, 207): Bayless dominated against lower-rung competition with 93 receptions for 1,653 yards (17.8 average) and 17 touchdowns in 13 games to earn Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and second-team All-American. He had a combined total of 83 receptions in his previous three seasons.
Since 2018, Bayless had a friend shot and killed, lost two relatives to healthy issues and had a friend die in a car accident. “I was kind of numb to it. I lost all my feelings. It was hard to feel pain and suffering about it," he told THV11.com. "But when I really sit down and come to reality, that’s when I really think about it. These people really gone, they’re not coming back.” Bayless had considered quitting in the past and did so again. “He’s had a lot of things going back home. I think he felt a tremendous responsibility to help," coach Blake Anderson said. “It always made you hold your breath when he’d go home because it would be like, is he going to come back this time?” He scored a touchdown in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. “It inspired me a lot and gave me that extra drive to get up every day and get better,” he told DailyNews.com. “Everything happens for a reason and I’m doing what I am doing for those people that I loss.”
Lynn Bowden, Kentucky* (6-1, 199): Bowden is listed among the receivers but spent most of his final season at quarterback, where he rushed for 1,468 yards, led the nation with 7.9 yards per carry and scored 13 touchdowns as a runner and completed 35-of-74 passing. Fittingly, Bowden won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player. In 2018, he played receiver and caught 67 passes for 745 yards and five touchdowns.
Injuries forced Bowden to play quarterback, which brought obvious comparisons to former Kentucky receiver Randall Cobb, who also moonlighted at quarterback. Bowden became an unexpected face of the program. “Some of the schools I would visit, you’d get people looking at me like, ‘What is he doing here?’” Bowden told the Courier Journal this summer. “Or even some of the coaches would be like, ‘Wow, I didn’t expect you to be like this.’ I’ve got an ink addiction. I really don’t think personally there’s nothing wrong with having tattoos. It’s just my life. People are going to look at me the way they want. I know how I am. I’m a great person.” Bowden has 72 tattoos, including a Chinese symbol above his right eyebrow. “I tell people it means love,” he says. “It really means death,” he told the Athletic. “When I got it, I was in a deep, deep, dark place,” Bowden says. “I felt like the world was against me. My anger, I can control it now, but back then I had a short fuse. I could blow at any minute. So I thought I’d probably die young. I thought I’d never see the age of 21.” He grew up in troubled Youngstown, Ohio. As Saturday Down South wrote: He was an elite athlete, a do-it-all quarterback and a great basketball player at Youngstown’s Warren Harding High School. He was also a very questionable student, a soon-to-be-father, and an imposing young man, covered by tattoos and hidden under dreadlocks. Whispers followed Bowden. He’d never qualify academically. He was a gang member. He would never amount to anything.
Tony Brown, Colorado (6-1, 195): Brown spent his first two seasons at Texas Tech before transferring for his final two seasons. As a senior, he caught 56 passes for 707 yards (12.6 average) and five touchdowns. His four-season totals were 115 receptions, 1,418 yards (12.3 average) and seven scores.
Brown surprisingly emerged as a top threat opposite top draft prospect Laviska Shenault. “He’s done it all year, whether the guys are healthy or guys have been out,” coach Mel Tucker said told the Denver Post. “He’s done it in spring ball. He’s done it in fall camp. It seems like every single week we talk about Tony Brown. His name keeps coming up. And that’s because he’s very consistent and he always makes plays. I just think there’s a reality we have to come to that he’s a good player. That’s what it is.” Brown knew this was a do-or-die season for his NFL prospects. “I just had to snap out of it,” he told BuffZone.com. “Being a young kid, I didn’t really get a lot of experience of being on the field a lot, but it’s just the mindset of me being like, ‘Hey, this is it; do something.’ So I made up my mind to actually start working hard, doing the little things, and it’s been doing a lot for me.” His nickname is Touchdown Tony. "I like the pressure. That's what I dream for," he told 9News.com. "I like to prove people wrong. But I step up, I do my job, I do what I have to do."
Lawrence Cager, Georgia (6-5, 220): Cager spent his first three seasons at Miami, where he caught 45 passes and scored 10 touchdowns. With his degree, he transferred to Georgia and was available immediately in 2019. He caught 33 passes for 476 yards (14.4 average) and four scores.
At Georgia, Cager was reunited with offensive coordinator James Coley, who was the coordinator at Miami when Cager signed with the Hurricanes. “God works in mysterious ways,” Cager told DawgNation.com. “I’m here now with the coach I loved at Miami (Coley), and the coach I loved at Alabama (Kirby Smart), so I couldn’t ask to be in a better position.” Baseball was his first love – former MLB star Tori Hunter watched Cager play when he was in eighth grade – and he was the Maryland champion in the high jump. “It helped me, in all, playing multiple sports [because] you get to see how teams are formed and how to interact with different teammates,” Cager told RedAndBlack.com. “I think that’s molded me into the guy I’ve become today.”
Marquez Callaway, Tennessee (6-2, 204): Callaway never had a big season but he caught 91 passes for 1,633 yards and 13 touchdowns during his final three seasons. As a senior, he caught 30 passes for 635 yards (21.2 average) and six touchdowns. He had an exceptional 13.6-yard average with three scores on punt returns over his four seasons.
Callaway grew up in a military family as his mother, father, grandmother and uncle all served, and his brother was recently stationed in Korea. Callaway might have gone into the military, too, but he was too good in sports. “I’ll see what happens after any field I can get into,” he told the Knoxville News. “But the military is always a good backup plan. I wouldn’t be upset if I did go.” He was a high school All-American who was selected for the prestigious Army All-American Game. “Growing up in a military family has taught me a lot of the things. I’m real disciplined,” he told USA Today. “I’m real respectful and learned how to care for each other and people around me just like how you take care of one another out in battle.” He was an all-state basketball player at Warner Robins, Ga. – a military town. “[I’m] not surprised at all that's what he is supposed to do representing Warner Robins,” his high school coach told WMAZ. “Great kid and everybody's drawn to him like a magnet. He almost makes me cry sometimes because I remember seeing him walk these halls and grow up to the man he has become. I talk to him every other day just to make sure he's on track and doing what he should be doing, or also if he needs to talk to someone and he knows it’s not going anywhere but staying with me. I just love him, like a son.”
Quintez Cephus, Wisconsin* (6-1, 207): Davis returned from a season-long suspension to catch 59 passes for 901 yards (15.3 average) and seven touchdowns. He caught 13 touchdowns over his final two years, both seasons ending with all-Big Ten honorable mention.
In April 2018, Cephus engaged in sexual acts with two female University of Wisconsin students. Cephus said the sexual acts were consensual; the women said they were not. According to their complaints, they were incapacitated from alcohol and did not provide their consent. One woman allegedly went to an emergency room and claimed she had been raped. On Aug. 3, 2019, he was acquitted in deliberations that lasted less than 45 minutes. A couple weeks later, he was reinstated by the school; shortly thereafter, he was reinstated to the football program. He dominated from the start. “It’s just amazing how un-rusty he is, if that makes sense,” Coan said after the opening game. “You’d think a person that sat out that long wouldn’t be as good right away coming back, but I feel like he hasn’t missed a beat. It’s been awesome to have him.” Now, it’s off to the NFL after an uncertain future. “It was many times, many nights, every night, when I go to bed by myself and I don’t have people around me, you’re wondering what’s going to happen,” Cephus told The Associated Press. “You know you’re innocent, but you don’t know. Because of the place you’re in, the situation you’re in, the optics, you always get nervous about the ‘what ifs.’”
Chase Claypool, Notre Dame (6-4, 229): Claypool caught 66 passes for 1,037 yards (15.7 average) and 13 touchdowns during a monster senior season. His four-year totals were 150 receptions for 2,159 yards and 19 scores.
Claypool is from British Columbia. He can thank Facebook for charting his path to the NFL. “I wasn’t really aiming to get a [Division 1] offer just because it almost was impossible and kind of out of reach already, being a junior and having no offers,” Claypool told the Notre Dame Observer. “So I just kind of threw up my film on Facebook — just something that I did for fun — and then [my AAU seven-on-seven football coach] saw it and sent it to some people. … So it kind of happened by fluke.” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was impressed by the film but flew to Western Canada to see Claypool play basketball. “He’s a guy that is difficult to defend because he can catch on drive routes and score a touchdown,” Kelly told NBC Sports. “He can catch a ball on the sideline. He can catch a vertical route in the seam, a fade. He’s virtually a guy that has all of the weapons.” Claypool plays for his sister, who committed suicide. “Every time I saw her she was really excited to see me,” he said Strong of Heart Notre Dame. “The last time I saw her she yelled my name down the street, she asked me how things were going. She was really proud of me. We were really close in the sense she was always happy for me and I loved her. I was doing a lot of sports then and she knew all about that.”
Tyrie Cleveland, Florida (6-2, 205): In four seasons, Cleveland caught 79 passes for 1,271 yards and eight touchdowns. He had career highs of 410 yards as a sophomore, three touchdowns as a junior and 25 receptions as a senior. He also averaged 24.2 yards on 10 career kickoff returns.
The play of his career was this Hail Mary touchdown to beat Tennessee in 2017. “I saw the corner press inside, and I just ran fast,” Cleveland said. “I don’t think I’ve ever run that fast in my life,” he said after the game. He also had a 98-yard touchdown vs. LSU as a freshman in 2016. Cleveland went to high school in Houston but was born and raised in Jacksonville, Fla. When he was 13, his 19-year-old brother was shot and killed. “The best thing that ever happened to me was being able to play this game of football,” Cleveland told the Palm Beach Post. “It saved my life. … Where I grew up, a lot of cruel and harsh things happened in my neighborhood. I’ve seen things I wouldn’t want any little kid to go through.” He persevered, though, and made a difference in the Florida community. During his years in Gainesville, he volunteered with more than 10 different community service organizations including the Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, Saint Francis House and at Tim Tebow's Night to Shine event. "You never know what a kid is going through at home and to be able to put a smile on a kid's face and see him laugh, there's something about that,” he told the school Web site. “I'm going to continue to give back and continue to look out for the younger kids.”