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Draft Darlings: Puka Nacua could be a game-changing receiver on Day 3 for the Chiefs

The BYU prospect has tremendous upside

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NFL: Combine Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Chiefs fans know that a big part of winning the Super Bowl is getting contributions from late-round draft picks. The Chiefs likely aren't hoisting the Lombardi trophy without the contributions of two seventh-round rookies in Jaylen Watson and Isiah Pacheco.

General Manager Brett Veach has been tremendous at finding value in the back end of the draft. Players like Pacheco, Watson, Trey Smith and Nick Allegretti are part of the story of the Chiefs' long-term success.

Puka Nacua could be the next chapter of the story.


Born into a large family, Puka (Poo-ka) Nacua (Nah-koo-uh) was one of six children growing up in Las Vegas, Nevada. After losing his father to diabetes, he moved to Utah to be closer to his grandmother, who helped raise him. His two older brothers helped drive his interest in many sports. He picked up football, basketball and track. His success at the receiver position earned him the 2018 Utah Gatorade Player of the Year honor and Utah's "Mr. Football as a first-team All-American. He finished his career with Utah high school records for receptions (261), receiving yards (5,270) and receiving touchdowns (57). Nacua lettered in basketball and earned second-team All-State honors as a junior. He also lettered in track and broke the 46-year-old state record in the long jump (23' 10 1/4") to win the 4A state championship as a senior.

In his first two years at the collegiate level, he played for Washington. In 2019, he missed the season's final five games due to a broken foot. In 2020, he led the team in receiving despite missing a game due to covid. In his junior year, he transferred to BYU to be closer to his grandmother, who had cancer. At BYU, he logged 1,430 yds and 16 total touchdowns in his final two seasons. He was also voted team captain by his peers.

How Nacua wins

Nacua is an outlier in a very physically small wide receiver class. At 6'1" and 210 lbs., his size allows him to play inside or outside at the NFL level. He has a knack for getting open within the structure of the offense. He has excellent body control and plays bigger than his size at the catch point and with the ball in his hands. As Pro Football Focus' No. 3 overall graded receiver for the 2022 college football season, he made the most of manufactured touches for him. BYU liked to utilize him in the screen and sweep game often.

Nacua glides on the football field and is a magnet for empty spots in a defense. The way he uses his footwork is reminiscent of Los Angeles Rams All-Pro Cooper Kupp. Even more notable is that Nacua worked with Kupp's college receiver coach, Junior Adams, at Washington University.

How he loses

Nacua is not the most agile or explosive athlete. His straight-line speed won't worry NFL defenses. He tends to be too physical down the field, leading to additional contact getting him off his route. He can sometimes display a false step in his route that wastes what is already limited agility.

Health has been a concern. He suffered a broken foot during his freshman year and has had some concussions. He missed 11 games in his college career due to health, and some NFL scouts think he might be unable to stay on the field.

How he fits with the Chiefs

The Chiefs have never been a huge possession receiver team, and though Nacua does excel at this, he's still agile enough to play inside and outside. He is dynamic with the ball in his hands and would be tremendous with Travis Kelce on the field as well. He could realistically do many of the same things JuJu Smith-Schuster did for Kansas City in 2022.

His ability to carry the ball as a rusher also adds a different element to the Chiefs' jet sweep game they've not had (think Deebo Samuel). Nacua's routes have the potential to be some of the best on the team with development. As long as he contributes on special teams, he could be an easy lock for the 2023 roster.

The bottom line

Andy Reid loves a BYU prospect (given it's his alma mater), and Nacua feels like a high-floor player that could fill a number of receiver roles for the Chiefs. His high football character on and off the field makes him an easy player to root for. His physical stature and college production make him an enticing NFL prospect.

His injuries and lack of explosiveness will push him to Day 3 of the draft. Kansas City is a great destination for a player like Nacua since the team can get the most out of what he does well without exposing his weaknesses.

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