In a draft plush with an array of wide receivers of varied shapes, sizes and skill sets, Brandon Aiyuk and Jalen Reagor stand out among the top handful in terms of big-play ability.
Both are being projected as late first to mid-second round picks, which may lead one to believe that the Packers could be faced with the scenario of having to choose between Aiyuk and Reagor if they stay put at the 30th slot.
At face value, the speedsters share several traits that NFL evaluators are salivating over as the kind of weapons that have to be accounted for throughout the course of a ball game.
But acing a first-round pick requires more than a cursory comparison of two highly-coveted options; it’s necessary to examine both with a fine-tooth comb and determine which one is a better fit.
So, let’s plow through the details and see how these two hot rods stack up against each other — mano a mano.
Each runs fast and plays fast. Their official combine 40 times were a bit underwhelming, with Aiyuk clocking in with a 4.5 and Reagor posting a 4.47. However, the TCU product recorded an ungodly 4.22 in his follow-up virtual workout. The film shows Reagor routinely employing an electrifying jab step to freeze and explode past his nearest defender, while then proceeding to burn rubber once he’s in the clear. You would be hard pressed to find any plays where the Texas native is caught from behind. Aiyuk, on the other hand, also flashes an amazing stop-and-go burst and similarly gains ample separation. These prospects are very close in this area. But Reagor earns the slight advantage given his unrivaled first-step burst that provides the one-time track star the rocket fuel to go the length of the field.
Score: Reagor 9 Aiyuk 8.5
Aiyuk typically gets off the line with quickness, but will occasionally get stymied by a press-man corner who gets into his chest. Reagor is fully capable of fighting off most defenders who try to get in his grill, while also utilizing the lateral quicks to go around his opponent. The former Horned Frog gets the edge here considering his grown-man strength when it comes to fending off tight coverage off the snap.
Score: Reagor 8.5 Aiyuk 7
Reagor masterfully sets up his routes with a series of nods and stutters before sinking his hips and exploding out of his cuts. The 5’11”, 195-pound pass catcher didn’t run a full route tree during his time in Fort Worth, but was able to showcase his ability to bewilder the opposition with double moves on slant-and-go and stutter-and-go patterns.
Aiyuk is a smooth route runner in his own right, as he routinely breaks away from defensive backs with his fluid hips and advanced footwork, particularly on double moves. The ex-Sun Devil turns on an extra gear out of his stem on post-fade patterns, crossers and in-breaking patterns. Aiyuk’s combination of impeccable body control and great hands help him successfully come down with the catch once he’s worked his way open. However, the JUCO transfer is still raw in some of the nuances of playing the position and can tend to take some liberties in executing precise routes.
The decision here goes to Reagor for his extraordinary sharpness.
Score: Reagor 9 Aiyuk 8
Deep Ball Prowess/Ball Tracking
At times Aiyuk seems to track passes effortlessly on deep shots, where he can leave his man in a cloud of dust. Yet, there were situations when the First Team All Pac-12 selection wasn’t as gracious in pursuing a perfectly delivered pass that would force him to stop and turn or to go slightly outside of his frame to reel in the off-target throw. Reagor not only beats downfield defenders at high pointing the ball, but he can track the ball over either shoulder. Some of those plays were downright spectacular, with Reagor plucking over-the-shoulder tosses one-handed. There have been instances where he sight of a few deep balls, but the senior often had to contend with bad quarterbacking that made the task of securing deep strikes much harder than it needed to be.
Score: Reagor 7.5 Aiyuk 7
There’s a reason why Reagor was dubbed “The fastest player in the Big XII.” His rare acceleration out of his cuts frequently put would-be tacklers on their heels, as they feared giving up a big play to this one-of-a-kind athlete. But what makes Reagor truly special is the fact that he seemingly doesn’t lose any speed in the process of changing directions. This attribute makes him a much tougher customer to corral than other skill-position players who gear down while trying to shake off their adversaries.
Aiyuk is no slouch in cutting back against overzealous defenders. He’s very creative in putting on a series of moves and making people miss. No. 2 can flat out fly once he gets the ball in space. He doesn’t need much to get to top speed. But while Aiyuk is a force in this department, Reagor just has that little extra pop that anyone can see in his college game tape.
Score: Reagor 9.5 Aiyuk 8.5
Though Reagor lined up on the right side of the line of scrimmage about 80 percent of the time, he was just as effective in going over the middle as he was on the outside. Further, the second-generation football player was also featured in the backfield on end-arounds and jet sweeps, along with also proving himself to be a dangerous return man. Aiyuk primarily lined up on the left side of the line of scrimmage and occasionally in the slot. He too possesses the combination of speed and toughness to generate big plays at all three levels, both on the perimeter and on in-breaking routes. The speed merchant is a terror as a return man in that his balance, vision and cutback ability allowed him to bust huge runbacks both at Sierra College and at Arizona State. The 6’0, 195-pound rookie-in-waiting runs with the decisiveness of a halfback and should expect to be fed the ball on a number of straight running and/or misdirection plays in the NFL. Both prospects are equally versatile.
Score: Aiyuk 9 Reagor 9
This is an area where Aiyuk truly excels. The Pac-12 product has some of the quietest mitts you’ll ever see and rarely seems to struggle putting away passes thrown at high velocity. His confidence and facility in tucking away oncoming passes — along with his sheer competitiveness — explain why Aiyuk can fearlessly go up and get contested balls.
Going up for contested balls and even 50-50 passes for that matter is an underrated part of Reagor’s game. His hands are just as strong as the rest of his rocked-up physique. The only issue with his hands is that Reagor is susceptible to focus drops. In addition, he registered a meager 46.2 percent catch rate in 2019. But much of that was due to playing with a freshman quarterback who was finding his bearings.
Aiyuk 9.5 Reagor 6.5
Stats are only a small component when it comes to scouting NFL prospects. But they’re not totally meaningless, particularly when you factor in the level of competition of the player in question. In Aiyuk’s case, he took a big jump in 2019, as he gained 1,192 receiving yards, 672 special teams yards and posted a 63.1 percent catch rate. Reagor’s numbers pale by comparison, which (again) isn’t totally of his doing. However, 611 receiving yards in 2019 was a far cry from the previous year, when he produced 1,061 yards as a receiver.
Score: Aiyuk 8 Reagor 7
Neither Reagor nor Aiyuk will ever be confused with Hines Ward as pure blockers. Aiyuk is a willing blocker who generally did his part in his attempts to clear space for former Sun Devils’ running back Eno Benjamin. He certainly isn’t afraid to get his hands on people. To his credit, Reagor can be a pest as a downfield blocker. But as strong as he is, he just gives up too much size to a lot of defenders — and it’ll only get tougher in the pros, where a host of defensive backs can put up 400 pounds on the bench.
Score: Aiyuk 6 Reagor 5.5
At this point in time, there’s no reason to believe that either of the two are character risks. Aiyuk has been a true professional throughout his college career, starting with his days at Sierra College. As a newcomer at the California school, Aiyuk demonstrated patience and maturity in sitting behind Isaiah Bailey. All the young student athlete was concerned with was finding a way to contribute, and he accomplished that by asking his coach to return punts. Aiyuk profiles as a pure worker, but not a big-time talker. Reagor is similarly dedicated to his craft. As the son of a track star mother and a father (Montae Reagor) who played in the NFL for nine seasons, the youngster refused to follow in his dad’s footsteps and walked away from a scholarship at Texas Tech. Instead, he sought to create his own legacy by eventually signing on at TCU. Reagor is a tireless grinder who recently informed Bleacher Report’s Tyler Dunne that he’s been knocking out 800 sit-ups per day during the current COVID-19-induced sports lockdown. Putting in that volume of work when no one is watching is noteworthy to say the least.
Score: Aiyuk 10 Reagor 10
Conclusion: Reagor and Aiyuk wind up in a 81.5 deadlock. That’s how close they are on paper. But big decisions aren’t always made according to numbers and/or mathmatical calculations. If I were calling the shots on Thursday night, I would lean toward Reagor due to his unique blend of pure speed, instant acceleration and physicality. While Aiyuk doesn’t lack any of the listed traits, his counterpart has a touch more of those qualities overall.