Puka Nacua has been the gold standard of the NFL season through two weeks. Calling his numbers a shock is not a slight on his talent coming out of BYU; that’s an expression of awe. According to ESPN, he is the first player in NFL history to record 10 or more receptions and 100 or more receiving yards in both of his first two games, and his 15-reception game on Sunday is a rookie record.
He wasn’t picked until the fifth round of the NFL draft, 177th overall, yet through two weeks he is leading the entire league in receptions (25) and is second to Justin Jefferson in receiving yards (266).
NFL.com had his prospect grade at 5.80, projected as an “average backup or special teamer.” (Read the report here). Where did scouts and analysts go wrong?
At BYU, Nacua was solid, recording 1,430 receiving yards and 91 receptions between his final two seasons of play. He showed versatility in his fourth and final season, scoring five rushing and five receiving touchdowns in nine games. There were signs, but those numbers don’t point to a breakout rookie.
To see where he broke out as an NFL prospect, one must go back to high school, specifically his senior year, where Nacua established himself as a top receiver by the numbers but didn’t get quite the analyst ranking he probably deserved.
In 2018-19, Nacua was one of five candidates for the All-USA Offensive Player of the Year award by USA TODAY High School Sports when he recorded 103 receptions for 2,336 yards and 26 touchdowns for Orem High School (Utah). That yardage and touchdown figure was Utah’s single-season record; Nacua also set the Utah career records for receptions (260), yards (5,226) and touchdown receptions (58), according to Gatorade, for which he was the state’s player of the year in 2018-19. Orem won the championship each year from 2017-20, and two of them came with Nacua helping lead the way.
He did it against national competition, too, being named the 2018 Polynesian Bowl Player of the Year with six receptions, 93 yards and a touchdown.
— Scott Schrader (@Scott_Schrader) January 20, 2019
Despite those numbers, Nacua couldn’t quite reach the five-star prospect tier, finishing at four-stars. The 247Sports Composite listed Nacua as the No. 136 player in the class of 2019 and the No. 22 receiver overall. 247Sports itself was higher, ranking him as a top-50 player in the class and a top-10 receiver.
It wasn’t just media and recruiting analysts who weren’t all the way there with the 6-foot-2, 190-pound receiver. Nacua had just 12 college offers, according to 247Sports, and he first committed to USC before flipping to Washington and playing for the Huskies for two years before transferring to BYU in 2021.
What did we (meaning media) and they (meaning team scouts) miss? It’s not exactly clear. Nacua’s pace is most likely unsustainable — unless you think he can catch 212 passes — but we probably should have been a little more prepared to watch him excel early in the NFL.