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Finding The Next Puka



For the past four months, everyone has been talking about “the next Puka.”

Who is it? What did we miss last year? Where can we find them? What should we look for?


The cowardly answer to that question is that no one is “the next Puka.” His blend of skills with Sean McVay’s utilization and Cooper Kupp’s tutelage was the perfect storm needed to break the rookie receiving record and it is not something that is going to be replicated every year. That’s what a coward would say.


A brave ball-knower would tell you that they were in on Puka last year, and that they can find the next Puka again this year. That is what I am here to do. 


First, we have to define what we mean by “the next Puka.”

Does it mean who is the day 3 prospect that I’m highest on? 

Does it mean the guy who can produce right away in the right system? 

Or are we looking for Puka’s closest comparison in terms of skill set?

Regardless of which definition you choose, I have an answer for each.



The Next Puka: Day 3 Stud


It is always tough to assume draft capital before the draft, and someone who is projected day 3 could certainly go in the 2nd or 3rd round as we see every year. However, I am pretty sure that this player will not be selected before the 4th round, and I have not seen anyone with a higher ranking of him than what I have. His name is Malik Washington. He is my 10th ranked receiver in this class. He has exceptional ball skills and YAC ability. Remind you of anyone? He was extremely productive in college based on Yards per Route Run. Remind you of anyone? His traits may limit his draft value but his skill will elevate him up depth charts. Remind you of anyone?


Of all the college slot receivers in this year’s class like Roman Wilson, Malachi Corley, Jacob Cowing, and others, Washington is my bet to transcend that role the quickest at the next level. He has play strength for his size, and has some high-end route running reps on tape that translate to the outside. If we are asking which day 3 receiver will out perform his draft capital the most in 2024, and therefor be the next Puka, my answer is Malik Washington.


The Next Puka: Immediate Producer in the Right System


This class has an unusual amount of polished receivers who could step into the NFL and produce right away. One stands above the rest, though. Jermaine Burton’s speed and route running technique both pop off the screen. He is able to flip his hips and alter his route path without losing speed and toys with defenders during his routes. He is lethal on deep posts and comebacks against off coverage, and he has the play strength and technique to win off the line against press. He can step in and run a full route tree right away, but would be best used as a vertical Z receiver. If he lands on a team with an established X receiver that needs a little explosiveness in their offense, he could become a consistent target earner very early in his career. His best fits are teams like Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Las Vegas, and Indianapolis. All of these teams have X receivers that can compliment Burton’s game, but there is one team that is an even better fit. The Atlanta Falcons have spent their last 3 top-10 picks on skill players and likely will not do so again this year. But they still have a need for a vertical Z receiver opposite Drake London and Kyle Pitts. Burton could be acquired with a lower pick due to his reputation, and in Atlanta's offense would be asked to do what he is best at: creating big separation deep down the field and demanding defenses attention. If we are asking which receiver could explode in the right situation, and therefor be the next Puka, my answer is Jermaine Burton.



The Next Puka: Closest Comparable Skillset


If we are purely talking traits and deployment, I think the next Puka in this class is pretty clear. We’re looking for someone who wins with strength, ball skills - specifically hand strength in contested situations and down the sideline, burst, YAC, and blocking. The prospect who’s strengths check every one of those boxes? Puka’s former teammate at the University of Washington, Ja’Lynn Polk. Polk has a little more polish than Puka did coming out, and Puka probably has a little more juice, but they win in incredibly similar ways. Polk has some of the best contested catches in this class - his full extension diving backwards catch through contact against Michigan State was one of the best catches I saw this draft cycle. Polk’s strength and vision on screens and YAC plays pop off the screen and he consistently ran through tackles in the secondary.


Lastly, and maybe most importantly, there are instances of high-effort, high-impact blocks all over his film. He was used and excelled on the same crack and insert blocks that allowed Puka to see the field on Week 1 in the first place. Sometimes little things for fantasy are big things in the NFL and directly affect playing time and opportunity. Having the floor that Polk does will allow him to be on the field from week 1 and gives him the opportunity to produce early. He’s not just a blocker and YAC player, though. Polk is a very subtly refined route runner who gets out of breaks very quickly and has a plan of attack against press and off coverage. He can win on the same Dig routes that Puka was killing people on all season and downfield he has exceptional tracking ability, play strength, and sideline navigation to bring in deep balls. If we are asking which receiver plays the game most similarly to Puka and could be utilized in similar ways, my answer is Ja’Lynn Polk.

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