The New Orleans Saints will have tons of options available to them with the 24th pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. There have been several mock drafts completed by NFL pundits and fans alike. All of them have something in common- the Saints taking a linebacker or wide receiver with their first pick.
This logic makes perfect sense as New Orleans will be focused on adding to the present while they make one more push for a Super Bowl with quarterback Drew Brees at the helm. However, as we have gotten closer to the draft, new trends show the possibility that neither of the two top linebackers or the top four wide receivers will be available at 24. Linebackers Patrick Queen and Kenneth Murray have quickly been ascending draft boards during this draft process. Additionally, the consensus top-tier of wide receivers Lamb/Jeudy/Ruggs/Jefferson may not be available when New Orleans takes its turn being on the clock.
This open the door wide open to the possibility that the Saints will trade down and take a player like wideout Brandon Aiyuk. Ross Jackson lays out three trade down scenarios in his article here, two of which have the Saints adding capital in the second-round of the draft. In both scenarios Jackson has Aiyuk as a potential target for New Orleans.
Aiyuk plated two years in junior college before transferring to Arizona State in 2018. In his two season, the wideout recorded 98 receptions for 1,666 yards and 11 touchdowns. Perhaps more telling is his incredibly high average yards per reception at 18.3-yards. Yards after catch (YAC) is one of Aiyuk’s calling cards as numerous draft pundits have pouinted out. That skill set would fit right in with the offensive scheme of the Saints led by Brees and wide receiver Michael Thomas.. This is why trading down and taking Aiyuk in the second could be a plausible scenario.
His 4.50 40-yard is not exactly eye-popping when looking at some of the wideouts in the “top-tier”. However, he has been able to use that speed to create a vertical threat for his offense, and tends to do well with deep balls.
Brandon Aiyuk has never dropped a deep pass (20+ yards) in his career at Arizona State. pic.twitter.com/FPaIzTJU8f— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 3, 2020
There are a few factors that play against Aiyuk and his case for being the fifth receiver taken in the draft. The Arizona State product underwent abdominal surgery early this off-season, and could miss much of the off-season work that usually precedes the start of the season. This could set him back for the start of the season, and some teams may not want to take that risk. One factor playing in his favor is that teams were well aware of the injury. With no OTA’s and the possibility that camp may be shortened or delayed, this was the perfect time to take care of the injury through surgery.
Performance-wise, Aiyuk is not an incredibly physical receiver, which could impact his ability to make create separation and space. In the Saints offense, this would be necessary with the high amount of anticipatory throws that Brees and the offense rely on to maintain efficiency.
Brandon Aiyuk says he models game after @obj, sees similarities in his game to Deebo Samuel's and Tyreek Hill's. Had core muscle injury flagged at Senior Bowl but says he's healthy now and will do all drills at the #NFLCombine this week. pic.twitter.com/dUWsTK66fI— NFL Draft (@NFLDraft) February 25, 2020
If Aiyuk can develop into a type of player that resembles any of what those players have become in the NFL, then trading down and building 2020 draft capital seems to be the logical choice. This would hinge on New Orleans not being able to get “their guy” when the 24th pick arrives, and taking Aiyuk after the trade down.