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Top Receivers in NFL Draft: Brandon Aiyuk

Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk checks in at No. 7 in our ranking of the top receivers in the NFL Draft.
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Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk checks in at No. 7 in our ranking of the top receivers in the NFL Draft.

After two years of junior college, Brandon Aiyuk committed to play for Herm Edwards at Arizona State. As National Signing Day approached, he got a late offer from Alabama.

Aiyuk never really gave his commitment a second thought. While Edwards has posted a modest 15-11 record in two seasons at ASU, he made his mark on Aiyuk. With eight seasons as an NFL head coach and nine seasons as a cornerback with the Philadelphia Eagles, Edwards had a lot of wisdom he could pass along to Aiyuk.

“It was huge, especially with him playing corner and him being a head coach, he was someone I could talk to,’” Aiyuk said at the Scouting Combine. “I’m like, ‘All right, 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.”

Aiyuk caught 98 passes during two seasons, including 65 receptions for 1,192 yards and eight touchdowns during an All-American senior season.

Three numbers stand out:

First, it’s hands. He ranked eighth in the draft class by catching 90 percent of catchable passes, according to Sports Info Solutions.

Second, it’s his run-after-the-catch ability. He averaged 10.9 YAC per catch – second only to Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb – and finished sixth among our top 32 receivers with one broken tackle for every 4.64 receptions. “With my running back background, I feel like after I catch the football, I transition back into that running back I used to be,” he said.

Third, it’s the length that allows him to play so much bigger than his 5-foot-11 5/8-inch frame. Of the receivers at the Combine, he ranked sixth with 33 1/2-inch arms and tied for fifth with an 80-inch wingspan. The receivers who matched or surpassed Aiyuk’s wingspan were all at least 6-foot-3 5/8. He also had a 40-inch vertical, further increasing his catch radius. “Playing above the rim,” he said. “I measured in at 5-11, so I think the wingspan helps that out. 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.”

What we like

Aiyuk can win short or he can win deep. He hauled in 8-of-19 passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield, a solid 42.1 percent success rate. Throw in the YAC, and it’s easy to see why he had so much success (241 yards) on screens. Plus, he averaged 31.9 yards with one touchdown on kickoff returns and 16.1 yards with one touchdown on punt returns in 2019.

“I take a lot of pride in returning kicks,” he 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.”

What we don’t like

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It’s nice to talk about things like arm length and wingspan and jumping ability and project it to what it could mean in the NFL. The face is it didn’t translate enough in college. He had a contested-catch rate of 25.0 percent, according to Pro Football Focus, the worst of our top 32 receivers.

Bill Huber’s Top Receivers

No. 1: Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy

No. 2: Alabama’s Henry Ruggs

No. 3: Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb

No. 4: LSU’s Justin Jefferson

No. 5: Baylor’s Denzel Mims

No. 6: Clemson’s Tee Higgins

No. 7: Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk

No. 8: Colorado’s Laviska Shenault

No. 9: USC’s Michael Pittman

No. 10: Texas’ Devin Duvernay

No. 11: Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool

No. 12: TCU’s Jalen Reagor The New Receiver U.