INDIANAPOLIS -- A year ago at this time N’Keal Harry was the big-time wide receiver prospect out of Arizona State, eventually solidifying his status as a first-round pick of the Patriots.
Harry’s arrival in New England opened up opportunity in the Sun Devils’ offense, one that was filled this past fall by Brandon Aiyuk. In his second season at ASU after two years at Sierra Junior College, Aiyuk had breakout campaign with 65 catches for 1,192 yards (18.3 avg.) with eight touchdowns.
Part of a class of wide receiver prospects at this week’s NFL Scouting Combine that’s considered potentially historic, Aiyuk understands that he’s gone from living in Harry’s shadow to following in his footsteps.
“N’Keal left, went in the first round last year. People didn’t have many expectations for me. I feel like I filled that role as the No. 1 this year,” Aiyuk said. “As soon as N’Keal left, I understood what time it was. I understood I had one year to get things right. So it wasn’t a surprise to me.”
Aiyuk admits he learned plenty from Harry during his one year playing behind him, and continues to stay touch with his former teammate.
“N’Keal is a great player. Last year (from him I learned) confidence. You talk to N’Keal, he’s a really confident person, so that was one of the main things I took from him last year, when he decided to sit out the bowl game and I played in his spot. But the main thing he talked about was confidence.”
The 5-11, 206-pound Aiyuk doesn’t have the same size as Harry, one of the things the projected borderline first-round pick brought up when asked to compare himself to his Patriots pal.
“N’Keal, he’s more of a bigger-body receiver. I talked to him last year, and he was saying that one of his things was separation,” Aiyuk said. “That’s a huge thing I was working on this season, just trying to define my route-running, being fluid in my breaks, getting in and out of them.”
Aiyuk hopes to prove that his combination of positional versatility – slot and outside – and huge wingspan will help him compete physically at the next level. Like Harry, he also believes playing for former NFL head coach Herm Edwards is a benefit as he transitions to the professional ranks.
“From the moment coach Herm came to visit me, he was talking about the pro model. That’s exactly what it is at Arizona State. Every practice, every week, everything that we do over there is in preparation for the NFL. It definitely prepares us well,” Aiyuk said. “It was huge, especially with him playing corner (in the NFL) and him being a head coach, he was someone I could talk to. I’m like, ‘Alright, 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.”