'Why Brandon Aiyuk?'
The former Sun Devil has drawn praise throughout the NFL draft community because of how big a threat he is after the catch.
However, there are some distinct limitations to his game that lead some to believe he isn't deserving of the 1st round grade many have on him.
1 - Winning at the line of scrimmage
There are a lot of people (me included) that believed the Aiyuk is a receiver you have to manufacture touches for to succeed.
While he’s extremely raw, he has the ability to consistently create separation around the line of scrimmage as well as down the field.
Here we see Aiyuk releasing inside on an outside breaking route, then creating space by throwing the defender by him.
Notice how well he decelerates & re-enters acceleration as he breaks towards the football.
His unique combination of length & quickness has him covering more ground than anticipated for someone standing at only 6’0”.
He can get on the toes of defensive backs in a hurry, and is a sudden accelerator who is efficient in the transitional periods of deceleration to re-acceleration.
Around the goal-line Aiyuk’s length & suddenness are magnified.
In short areas he can flash the ability to quickly separate.
While he does need some technical refinement, athletically he has the ability to be a threat to defensive backs around the line of scrimmage.
2 - Mid route re-acceleration & disguising route concepts
Aiyuk threatens defensive backs vertically and can abruptly break out of his stem allowing him to create additional separation.
He has flashes of precision that when coupled with his unique movement capabilities can show his ceiling as a traditional receiver.
Again, it's the threat of Aiyuk that throws off the timing of defensive backs.
He is able to cover ground quickly, but can also sink & snap out of periods of acceleration efficiently.
His capabilities during early acceleration make defensive backs think twice before committing.
This is a mismatch from the snap. Aiyuk knows #53 doesn’t likely have the athletic capabilities to stay with him, however he doesn’t just blow by him.
He creates separation by disguising his concept and turning square towards the boundary alluding to an outside breaking route.
Once he turns he shoulders he sells outside opportunity then re-accelerates inside to complete the play.
3 - Play speed & success on manufactured touches
Aiyuk’s 4.50s 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine doesn’t do justice to the type of explosive athlete that he is. It was later reported that Aiyuk competed through a Sport Hernia and had to undergo surgery earlier this April.
His field awareness and ability to prolong deceleration due to his length & stride efficiency are big reasons he can take it the distance at anytime.
Pro Football Focus reported that Aiyuk had 710 yards after the catch, 4th most in College Football.
Winning on double moves will be apart of Aiyuk’s game as he transitions to the NFL level.
As talked about above its his ability to abruptly re-accelerate after periods of deceleration that make him dangerous here.
4 - Impact on special teams
A reason Aiyuk garnered first round buzz even before the combine was his success as a returner.
His athletic capabilities, and good field awareness can lead to him having value on special teams.
As a punt returner is where we could see Aiyuk have immediate Pro-Bowl upside.
This appears to be the most natural of all positions for Aiyuk, and allows him to rely on his instincts to create plays.
5 - Process coupling & lack of technical refinement
At times, Aiyuk gets stuck mid-route and his issues with footwork.
He is by no means a refined receiver, and is more of a project who has distinct athletic gifts that could lead to success.
Let’s talk about process coupling here.
Aiyuk needs to couple his play & processing speed to have consistent success on manufactured touches at the next level.
This is an easy read.
Two on one, boundary option situation that he turns up field unnecessarily and allows #3 the time to pursue.
6 - Landing spot: San Francisco 49ers
Aiyuk gives the 49ers another chess piece on offense, and while he is far from a complete player there is path to immediate relevance as a return man. As a receiver, we could see Aiyuk slot in at X or Z receiver with Deebo Samuel moving around. Target volume may be an issue due to how efficiently the 49ers run the football, and how much attention Kittle & Samuel command in that offense.
7 - 'Who is Brandon Aiyuk?'
Aiyuk is going to have an immediate impact in the NFL. The question is where? While he presents an intriguing ceiling as a receiver his potential for production may come as a special teams player early on in his career. Aiyuk was a Junior College All-American while at Sierra College before enrolling at Arizona State. He was a productive receiving option during his Junior season as a Sun Devil while seeing limited action as a Sophomore. Aiyuk graded out well as a deep option in 2019, but did most of his damage after the catch in the short to intermediate areas.
An area of unknown for Aiyuk comes in the contested catch department, seeing that only 3% of his receptions were contested in 2019. However, Aiyuk did have four games over 140 yards to go along with his impressive 18.3 yards per reception. There is a lot to like about Aiyuk's talent. He has unique physical traits including an 80" inch wingspan which is impressive for a 6'0" athlete. His length and capabilities as an accelerator will keep defenses honest as he develops his skill set as a traditional receiver.
Fantasy wise, his relevance as a Rookie will largely depend on where and how he is deployed. With his ability to make plays after the catch it may be a good idea to give him time in the slot to create mismatches with greater consistency. Right now, it's hard to say Aiyuk is anything, but a dart throw of a fantasy option. As he develops and refines his game he could turn into a legitimate offensive weapon with boom or bust weekly potential.
Lack of technical refinement