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NFL • 9 min read • May 11, 2024

Finding the Next Puka Nacua in 2024 Fantasy Football

@prittsindenver

After Puka Nacua shocked the world by setting NFL rookie records for receptions in a season, receiving yards in a season, receptions in a single game, and receiving yards in a playoff, the natural question everyone started to ask was, who is the next Puka? The short answer is that there is a 99.99% chance that there won’t be one this year. However, that’s not fun to think that way, and it will still be interesting to see which 2024 rookies have the best chance to get close to Puka’s 2023 season.

 

To get our criteria for candidates, we’ll narrow it down by using some of the similarities Puka Nacua had. We’ll be looking at players:

1. Drafted on day three or were undrafted

2. Going to teams with minimal competition

3. Tied to good quarterbacks or quarterbacks that could become very good this season. 

Now, let’s take a look at our candidates!

 

 

Troy Franklin

Denver Broncos

 

Height: 6’2”; Weight: 176 pounds 

Age on Draft Day: 21 Years and 8 Months

Class: Junior

 

Starting the list with someone who barely was eligible due to being just the second pick of the fourth round, Troy Franklin. Pre-draft rankings had Troy Franklin all over the place, as high as the fourth-best receiver in the class and as low as the 15th- to 20th-best. Personally, I was very impressed with his movement skills and route running and felt the concerns about his hands were overstated, with him having great hands in 2022. With Franklin sliding in the draft, it seemed he was destined for a terrible landing spot, but it turned into potentially the best spot he could have landed in regardless of round.

 

Troy Franklin will get the opportunity to pair up with Bo Nix, his college quarterback for the past two years. This normally is already great for both the quarterback and the receiver but is even more of a development considering that both will be paired in Sean Payton’s offense which has a heavy emphasis and timing. With both already being in sync the past two seasons at Oregonthe two seem like they should be able to hit the ground running from day one like Puka Nacua did.

 

Now, it’s hard to consider Bo Nix a “good” quarterback, given that he has not played a down in the NFL yet. However, with his draft capital and the accuracy he’s shown at Oregon, I feel he will be a natural fit in Sean Payton’s offense and could make Troy Franklin his top receiver. The biggest barriers to Franklin becoming Nix’s top target are Courtland Sutton, who has become a more complete receiver but still struggles with separation, Tim Patrick, who is coming back from a torn ACL and will be turning 31 during the season, and Marvin Mims, who had a lackluster rookie season in 2023, and Josh Reynolds, who is a solid receiver but hasn’t been that great. 

 

I think Courtland Sutton will get the majority of playing time, and the second receiver role will come down to a battle between Josh Reynolds and Troy Franklin, with both having similar skills and builds. If Franklin can continue that chemistry with Bo Nix and earn a role over Reynolds, he could be in for a big season that would only be limited to how much Nix can accomplish as a rookie. 

 

 

 

Javon Baker

New England Patriots

 

Height: 6’1”; Weight: 202 pounds 

Age on Draft Day: 22 Years and 2 Months

Class: Junior

 

The New England Patriots are amid major turnover between moving on from Bill Belichick and bringing in their next hopefully franchise quarterback in Drake Maye. Their turnover will likely continue, with the Patriots using two of their five picks in the first 110 picks of the 2024 draft on receivers. The first was on second-rounder Ja’Lynn Polk, whose second-round draft capital disqualifies him from this article, and the second was on fourth-rounder Javon Baker

 

Javon Baker had a lot of fans in the pre-draft process, even cracking some people’s top ten. His strong route running, fantastic ball skills, and tough hands to finish catches through contact and above defenders illustrate the image of him having the chance of becoming a top receiver for a team. He ended up falling to the fourth round, but he landed in a situation without a clear number one option or an opportunity to develop chemistry with Drake Maye during rookie minicamp and training camp. 

 

Javon Baker’s biggest competition for targets who are still on the roster from last year is Kendrick Bourne, who is coming off an ACL injury, and Demario Douglas, whose 5’8” frame isn’t conducive towards a heavy target load. As I mentioned, the New Patriots also drafted Ja’Lynn Polk and drafted him earlier in the draft, so it’s very easy to make these same arguments for him. However, it’s not a terrible bet if you want to target Baker later in the draft for the same upside but less cost.

 

There’s a very real possibility that the New Patriots keep a run-heavy approach for their offense, and even the number one receiving option isn’t able to put up great numbers. Even if this is the case, the opportunity to get a receiver with a pretty clear path to be the top receiver on their team is too enticing to pass up. Also, Javon Baker is already ready to make some Amon-Ra St. Brown comps: 

 

 

Bub Means/Mason Tipton

New Orleans Saints

 

Means:

Height: 6’1”; Weight: 212 pounds 

Age on Draft Day: 22 Years and 2 Months

Class: RS Senior

 

Tipton:

Height: 5’10”; Weight: 179 pounds 

Age on Draft Day: 23 years and 7 months

Class: RS Senior

 

I’m cheating a bit with two names here. Bub Means ended up getting drafted in the fifth-round of the draft and Mason Tipton went undrafted. So, I don’t feel the difference in how the team prioritized them for the draft makes a significant difference.

 

Bub Means had one of the best names in this draft class. So, with Puka Nacua having a great name, that has to mean something for Means, right? In all seriousness, Means is a talented player who can make some highlight reel plays in the air. He is a bit of a work in progress as a route runner, but with his release, he has great hands and can make some tough adjustments to balls. 

 

Though Mason Tipton doesn’t have as cool of a name as Bub Means, he’s a quality player despite going undrafted. While Means profiles more as an outside receiver, Tipton profiles more as a slot receiver. Tipton also could use some improvement in his route running but had some of the most ridiculous adjustments to catches I saw out of the receivers in this draft class.

 

One of the teams I expected to pick up at least one receiver or tight end early in the draft was the New Orleans Saints. At the time of writing this, the Saints only have Chris OlaveRashid ShaheedAT PerryCedrick Wilson Jr., and Equanimeous St. Brown as possible receivers who could realistically make the roster and earn playing time over Bub Means and Mason Tipton. Olave is clearly a stud, but after him, it gets a bit shaky.

 

Rashid Shaheed had a solid year, but he is still an unproven player who could just as easily regress as he could progress. We like to assume positive trajectories for players, but players like Van Jefferson have shown that players can have strong second years but still regress. With AT Perry, Cedrick Wilson Jr, and Equanimeous St. Brown being rather unproven players, it’s not impossible for Bub Means or Mason Tipton to jump them on the depth chart.

 

 

Ryan Flournoy

Dallas Cowboys

 

Height: 6’1”; Weight: 202 pounds 

Age on Draft Day: 24 years and 6 months

Class: RS Fifth-Year Senior

 

Nobody will blame anyone for not being familiar with Ryan Flournoy coming out of Southeast Missouri State, and his sixth-round draft capital likely doesn’t make him stand out. Flournoy’s freakish athleticism, adjustment skills to balls, and great hands, despite playing with a broken hand for most of the 2023 season, show a lot of upside that reminded me of the great Cody Latimer. Latimer wasn’t able to develop into a complete receiver, but the Dallas Cowboys may have more of a plan to develop Flournoy than the Denver Broncos did.

 

Ceedee Lamb will likely make a run to break the Dallas Cowboys’ reception and receiving yard records again, but competition is pretty wide open after him. Brandin Cooks looked fine, but it seemed like he may finally be losing a step and will be turning 31 this season. Jalen Tolbert is another athletic project that hasn’t impressed during his first two seasons. After Cooks and Tolbert, things get pretty bleak, with KaVontae Turpin potentially being the next best option.

 

The Dallas Cowboys have a pair of good tight ends with, Jake Ferguson and Luke Schoonmaker. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if they use a fair amount of two-tight end sets, which could limit the number of receivers on the opportunity. However, I don’t expect a strong running game with the Cowboys moving on from Tony Pollard with a plan for Ezekiel ElliotRico DowdleDeuce Vaughn, and Royce Freeman to handle the load. So, there may be a heavy emphasis on the passing game and potentially even more receiving opportunities than last year. 

 

 

Brenden Rice

Los Angeles Chargers

 

Height: 6’2”; Weight: 208 pounds
Age on Draft Day: 22 Years and 1 Month
Class: Senior

 

To finish out our list we have Brenden Rice on the Los Angeles Chargers. I’ll admit that I wasn’t a big fan of Rice but I certainly didn’t expect him to drop to the seventh round and be the 32nd receiver drafted. Rice definitely struggles with separation but has great hands and is a very capable route runner with good size that makes him a friendly target for jump balls and back shoulder throws.

 

The Los Angeles Chargers had a massive overhaul of their receiver room moving on from Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. This leaves a thin room of just Quentin Johnston, Josh Palmer, Ladd McConkey, and DJ Chark as the most notable receivers on the roster. I’m a big fan of McConkey and I feel Palmer is the safest best to get a lot of playing time. Opportunities open up past them though.

 

Quentin Johnston’s struggles were very apparent after he needed to scrap the development plan and failed to fit into Mike Williams' role with struggles against press and finishing catches. He wasn’t ready last year and if he isn’t ready this year, Brenden Rice may make a run for this role. Rice’s strong blocking skills will also be very appealing to Jim Harbaugh’s run-first scheme. DJ Chark is definitely in the picture as well but it has been too long since he’s been productive and he has battled too many injuries to be counted on. 

 

The Los Angeles Chargers will definitely be a run-first offense but have a ton of vacated targets with Keenan Allen and Mike Williams out of the picture. I think Josh Palmer and Ladd McConkey will get their fair share of targets as Palmer is the most accomplished receiver on the roster and McConkey is potentially the most talented. However, Brenden Rice could be a dark horse candidate to be the third receiver on the team if Quentin Johnston continues to struggle and Rice proves that he’s as talented as his biggest fans suggested. 

Brandin Cooks could certainly play most of the snaps with Lamb, thanks to his veteran status. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that Ryan Flournoy could pass Jalen Tolbert, who has only accumulated 24 catches for 268 yards in his first two seasons. It might be a race to see which of Tolbert of Flournoy will become a more complete receiver faster, and though both are likely cheap, Flournoy will likely be available on waivers after the rookie draft.