Safety Aashari Crosswell gave it his best shot, but his chase came to no avail. He watched his teammate Brandon Aiyuk blaze by the entire Sun Devil defense off of a slant in a preseason practice.
Short on breath, Crosswell muttered “That’s a first rounder right there.” And he is sure glad the senior Sun Devil wide receiver is on his team.
“When I say he’s a first rounder, he’s just got that ability. Taking a slant all the way to the crib, that’s not easy to do,” Crosswell said. “He’s a playmaker, that’s what people look for in the NFL. Just doing that he’s been making plays and I salute him.”
Aiyuk has emerged has one of the nation’s best receivers this season. And his talent reminds his wide receivers coach Charlie Fisher of one of the NFL’s most dynamic receivers ever, Torry Holt.
Fisher had the chance to coach Holt while the two were at North Carolina State in the late 90’s. Aiyuk reminds him of Holt because of his ability to run after the catch. Aiyuk’s performance from ASU’s 38-34 win over WSU was a sign, as he finished with a career-high 196 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
“I’ve said this all along, he’s got big time skills,” Fisher said. “Tremendous run after the catch ability and I think that was pretty obvious and he has displayed that since he really arrived at ASU. Saturday was just like a cherry on top of doing what he does.”
In his second season as a Sun Devil, Aiyuk has taken over N’Keal Harry’s role of being the go-to receiver for the team. This year, Aiyuk has 31 receptions for 651 yards and five touchdowns. Saturday’s game saw the senior wideout turn what coaches call a “bang eight” into an 86-yard touchdown.
Aiyuk knew he could take the catch to the house as the cornerback and safety left him too much room in the open field after his catch.
“I almost cut it short a little bit because I got excited,” Aiyuk said. “The safety tried to come over and tried to disguise the coverage but Jayden knew that he was coming back. I was just hoping that he saw that and then the safety ended up leaving and the corner bailed out. As soon as i got out of my break the ball was there and then i juts knew it was me and the safety.”
Aiyuk was not only named the Mandrake Player of the Week but also the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week. However, he didn’t have dwell much from his performance Saturday.
“My game myself, wasn’t really worth taking over my thoughts,” Aiyuk said. “The fact that we got a good team win and played good complimentary football. We were able to run the ball and communicate on the sidelines and play a fun game and get the win.”
Fisher has another player that he believes Aiyuk fits the mold of, Earl Bennett. Bennett was a semifinalist for the Fred Bilentikoff Award (best wide receiver award) during his time at Vanderbilt before a short NFL career with the Chicago Bears. Fisher sees Aiyuk built like Bennett as both had strong lower bodies and the ability to break tackles.
Last year, Aiyuk was still trying to find his role as he transitioned from JUCO to D1 football. In the teams win over Utah last year, Aiyuk had his first 100-yard game as a Sun Devil and he credits it to finding a role with the team.
“Last year it took me awhile,” Aiyuk said. “It took me up until then (Utah) to fully understand what my job was and what I had to do and to not have to think so much.”
Fisher remembered the missile screen from last year’s game the most. Aiyuk broke two tackles and became an explosive threat to the defense.
“That kind of ignited us and I really look back at the Utah game and I thought that’s maybe the best game we have played all year,” Fisher said. “We were really good from the beginning to the end. He was a big part of that, it was part of his growth. He’s a very talented player, talented players get better every week and he works hard and he wants to do good and he likes to be coached. When you put all those elements together you get a chance to be good.”
Fisher knows that Aiyuk took the next step to evolve his game heading into his senior season by being productive all offseason.
“We felt like from the time he got here, he had a special skillset,” he said. “What’s unique as a coach is to see his growth from last year. The last half of the season he took off and topped it off in the bowl game. I’ve said it all along, ‘how you finish the season, will lead into the offseason, the offseason throughout the summer.’
“If a guy is productive in the offseason, it is going to lead into what he is doing now. It’s not a surprise for me, when I see a guy build off production and success the way he has, it's no surprise and we have said that all along.”
Aiyuk and N’Keal Harry might have different skill sets, but Fisher sees the productivity of Aiyuk and can’t help but be amazed.
“Nationally he has got to be right there… it’s not easy to do what he is doing. Twenty-one yards a catch. When you are doing that, it’s pretty impressive.”