2023 NFL Draft

2023 NFL Draft Player Profiles: BYU WR Puka Nacua

From now until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I will be profiling a physical receiver from Brigham Young.

#12 Puka Nacua, WR, BYU (rJR) — 6012, 206 lbs.

Senior Bowl/Combine/Pro Day

Measurements

Player Ht/Wt Hand Size Arm Length Wingspan
Puka Nacua 6’1 ¼ /206 9 3/8 31 7/8 75 3/8
40-Yard Dash 10-Yard Dash Short Shuttle 3-Cone
N/A N/A N/A N/A
Broad Jump Vertical Bench Press
N/A N/A N/A

The Good

— Experience playing outside, slot and running the ball
— Good release; solid versus jam and good acceleration
— Very good hip drop and change of directions working back to the ball
— Awareness versus Zone to find the free areas and settle
— Confident hands in all situations
— Elite body control and sideline awareness
— Solid production after the catch; good stiff arm, tough to take down
— Used on Jet sweep, direct snap and as a tailback

— Willing and aggressive blocker

The Bad

— Speed doesn’t stand out; no extra gear
— Separation on in breaking routes
— Production on Crossers, Digs, Slants
— Some bobbles on hand offs
— Could improve body positioning when blocking
— Majority of production came in four game stretch
— Has dealt with several health issues including lower leg, knee and wrist

Bio

— 2022 – 48 receptions, 625 yards, 13.0 YPR, 5 TD; 25 carries, 209 yards, 8.4 YPC, 5 TD
— Career – 107 receptions, 1,749 yards, 16.3 YPR, 14 TD; 39 carries, 357 yards, 9.2 YPC, 5 TD
— 32 games, 21 starts
— 2022 First team All-Independent
— College Football Network Independent Wide Receiver of the Year
— Led team in receptions the last two seasons
— Started collegiate career at the University of Washington
— Also played basketball in high school
— Brother Kai is a safety for the Jets; Brother Samson played for the Colts
— Has dealt with knee, ankle and wrist issues that cost him playing time
— Birthday 5/29/2001 (age 21)

Tape Breakdown

Puka Nacua began his collegiate career at Washington before transferring to BYU and playing with his brother. He has good size and experience playing outside, in the slot and even some snaps in the backfield.

As a receiver, he shows good quickness and hand usage on his release off the line of scrimmage. Hesitations, jab steps and swatting with the hands help him handle players in Press. He will solidly use his body to lean on defenders before making his cut to try to create space. Against off coverage he shows good acceleration to get on the toes of the defender quickly and will press in a direction to get the defender to move before cutting around him. Facing Zone coverage, he displays good awareness to find the open areas and gets his head around quickly to give the quarterback a good target.

Vs Notre Dame, here is a nice release and good hand usage within the route to get open over the top.

At Boise State, he displays good acceleration off the line of scrimmage before settling in Zone and adding yards after the catch.

On comeback/curl routes, he shows a quick hip drop and good change of direction selling the deeper route to create separation. His hands are reliable plucking the ball easily on the move or when stationary. He tracks the ball well, is very good at adjusting to the ball as well as being able to make the catch in traffic. His sideline awareness is near elite to make the catch and get his feet inbounds. After the catch, he displays good physicality, a nice stiff arm and is rarely taken down by one defender.

Vs Arkansas, he is targeted on a deep ball down the right sideline and shows off his ball tracking and sideline awareness.

Creating after the catch is a valuable tool. Being able to take a short throw and turning it into a double digit gain was missing in the Steeler offense.

Vs Arkansas, another show of his hands, body control and sideline awareness.

And why not a couple more impressive plays. Nice nod inside to get the DB to move just a hair followed by a bobbled, concentration, body control catch. And yes, he did get the right foot down on a fourth down play that ended up the game winner.

In 2022, he carried the ball 25 times. He was used on the jet sweep and also out of the backfield on options, the direct snap and even as the tailback taking the hand off. On the jet sweep, he uses his blocks well and accelerates well through open lanes to the tune of 5 rushing touchdowns. It’s always nice to see a willing blocker at wide receiver. He uses a good base and aggressiveness to get his hands on defenders to block for teammates.

As a blocker, the effort is there from the slot at the top. He could put himself more between the ball and the defender but the hands and aggressiveness are good.

Here he is taking the direct snap in the red zone.

And here are a couple example of him running the ball.

His overall speed doesn’t wow on tape but I also didn’t see him get caught from behind. It may be enough but he doesn’t possess that extra gear. On in breaking routes, he doesn’t create a lot of separation. Improving his technique at the break point would be beneficial. A lot of his production was outside not receiving a lot of targets on Crossers, Digs and Slants. On handoffs, I saw a couple bobbles when receiving the ball. He has dealt with multiple injury issues that has cost him time on the field. Nacua was held without at catch versus Notre Dame who played a physical type defense, but could have easily had multiple defensive pass interference calls in his favor in a run heavy game plan.

Here is an in breaking route where he makes the catch in traffic. On his break to the inside, he rounds it off a bit and almost on the sides of his feet limiting explosiveness out of the break.

Conclusion

Nacua has experience lining up outside and in the slot as well as a fair amount of carries. He has experience running the entire route tree with a lot of his production coming on Go, Post, Comeback and Curl routes. He has a good release and gets up field quickly to stress defenders. His hands are reliable and he is solid creating after the catch. In the run game, he was used on Jet sweeps often with good success and is a willing, aggressive blocker for teammates.

Areas to improve include working on his technique to create separating between the numbers against Man coverage. His production on in breaking routes was somewhat limited in the games watched. When running with the ball either after the catch or on handoffs he runs upright opening his body to big hits. On running plays, he had a couple bobbles. While you can’t predict injuries they need to be considered as well.

Nacua was a fun watch particularly along the sideline. He had a four game stretch where he put together 36 receptions, 491 yards and 5 TD’s after going without a catch vs Notre Dame. His body control was very impressive. Moving on to the NFL, I am curious about how his speed will affect his draft status. I expect him to run in the mid-to-high 4.5 range and some players can be very effective at that speed. Others have struggles. I think he could initially be a good slot receiver who could move to the Z outside when needed.

Pittsburgh needs speed but if Calvin Austin is healthy he would help there. Nacua could back up George Pickens and also be a bigger slot option. For a comp, his body control initially brought me to DeVante Parker who is great along the sidelines. However, I’m going to go with a familiar name. Juju Smith-Schuster was of similar size, speed and physicality and while he played outside is best in the slot.

Projection: Early Day Three

Depot Draft Grade:  7.3 Rotational Player (4th Round)

Games Watched: 2021 At Baylor, vs Virginia; 2022 – At South Florida, Vs Notre Dame, Vs Arkansas, At Boise State

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