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Illustration by Michelle Budge, Deseret News / Source: Getty Images

It’s no fantasy — players with Utah ties are having big impact in NFL this season

There’s a contingent of players with Utah ties — from Cougars to Utes to Aggies — sure to stay in the NFL spotlight during the 2023 season.

SHARE It’s no fantasy — players with Utah ties are having big impact in NFL this season
SHARE It’s no fantasy — players with Utah ties are having big impact in NFL this season

Through the first couple of weeks in the 2023 NFL season, players with Utah ties — guys like Puka Nacua and Jordan Love, in particular — have been popular waiver wire additions in fantasy football.

That’s just one indication of the kind of impact Utah ties are having on the league early in the season.

Their contributions go far beyond just the fantasy football world, though — these five players have been thrust into the spotlight with their respective teams, whether due to pure skill or another player’s injury.


Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua carries the ball during game San Francisco 49ers Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif.

Gregory Bull, Associated Press

Puka Nacua

Utah ties: BYU and Orem High.

The rookie wide receiver has been a sensation for the Los Angeles Rams in the early portion of the season.

Here’s just a sampling of what the fifth-round draft pick has done in his first two weeks as a pro, with Rams star receiver Cooper Kupp on injured reserve:

  • He leads the NFL in targets (35) and receptions (25), while his 266 receiving yards is second only to the 309 from Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson.
  • Nacua set an NFL rookie single-game receptions record with 15 catches for 147 yards in the Rams’ Week 2 loss against NFC West divisional rival San Francisco.
  • He has a league-high 111 yards after the catch.
  • Nacua’s 25 receptions through his first two career games also set an NFL rookie mark, as did having two games with 10 or more receptions and 100 or more receiving yards in his first two career games.

49ers star linebacker Fred Warner, another BYU product who played against Nacua in Week 2, shared on the latest podcast episode of “The Warner House” when he knew Nacua had the work ethic to succeed in the league. 

Last year, Warner talked to the BYU team before a game against Stanford, and Nacua caught up with him afterward, picking his brain about his career and the NFL.

“This dude is dialed in. He knows exactly what it is about. You talk about having the right mindset,” Warner said.

Regarding Nacua’s quick start to his NFL career, Warner said, “I’m happy for him and his success to have this type of start.”


Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love looks to throw during game against the Atlanta Falcons, Sunday, Sep. 17, 2023, in Atlanta.

Danny Karnik, Associated Press

Jordan Love

Utah tie: Utah State.

After three years of sitting the bench in Aaron Rodgers’ shadow, the fourth-year quarterback and 2020 first-round draft pick is finally getting his chance to lead the Green Bay Packers.

Thus far, the results are promising.

Love has completed 55.8% of his passes for 396 yards and six touchdowns, tied for the NFL lead.

Oh, and he has the highest QB rating in the NFL, at 118.8.

With six touchdown passes and no interceptions, Love joins an exclusive club, according to NFL “GameDay,” as one of just four quarterbacks in the past decade with three-plus TD passes and no interceptions over the first two games of the year.

The others? Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Patrick Mahomes.

Under Love, the Packers also have the second-highest touchdown drive percentage league-wide through two weeks — Green Bay’s 33.3% TD drive percentage is second only to Denver (35.3%), per Pro Football Focus.

Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner said the Packers have kept things simple to maximize Love’s ability to process the game and deliver such positive numbers early in the year.

“We’re in a league with a lot of offensive geniuses, but oftentimes the key for young quarterbacks is to keep it simple — stay in their comfort zone in the early stages as they progress as a quarterback,” Warner said during a video segment on NFL Plus.

“I love what they’ve done with Jordan Love. He’s shown us that he understands what he’s looking at, what he’s seeing. He’s very comfortable in this offense and I’m excited to see how they finish up this season because I think he’s got a lot of room to grow.”


New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson looks to pass during game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023 in Arlington, Texas.

Sam Hodde, Associated Press

Zach Wilson

Utah ties: BYU and Corner Canyon High.

Speaking of Rodgers, this year was supposed to be a learning season for Wilson, after the embattled quarterback endured two tough seasons as the New York Jets starter to begin his career.

When Rodgers, a Jets offseason trade acquisition, went down just four plays into the season, Wilson was called upon again to lead the New York offense.

That’s come with high expectations for a franchise that believes it’s ready to win now.

So far, Wilson has struggled, while showing some improvement over last year. 

He’s completed 54.2% of his passes for 310 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions, and Wilson helped the Jets rally to beat the Buffalo Bills in Week 1.

While his 68-yard touchdown pass to second-year wide receiver Garrett Wilson last week showed the promise Wilson brings, his three fourth-quarter interceptions when he was pressing to get the Jets back in a game they lost 30-10 to the Dallas Cowboys also showed there’s plenty of room for growth.

For another season, Wilson is sure to be a polarizing figure in the NFL in the middle of a demanding New York media and fan market.

“Maybe Zach is ready, and I think Zach is a significantly better player than he was last year, former BYU quarterback and Hall of Famer Steve Young told “BYU Sports Nation” on Friday. “But the situation is just so hairy right now, especially in home games — the emotion he has to deal with when he goes out on the field in a home game.

“... I think he’s good enough to do it, but he needs those three or four games to just break out.”


Las Vegas Raiders’ Tre’von Moehrig (25) tackles Buffalo Bills’ Dalton Kincaid (86) during Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Adrian Kraus, Associated Press

Dalton Kincaid

Utah tie: University of Utah.

There have been high expectations surrounding Kincaid after the Buffalo Bills used the 25th overall pick in last April’s NFL draft to select the former Utes tight end.

Thus far, he has given Bills fans glimpses of what Buffalo can do in 12 personnel with him and fellow tight end Dawson Knox on the field.

Kincaid has nine receptions for 69 yards through two weeks, on 10 targets.

In the Bills’ win over the Las Vegas Raiders last Sunday, Kincaid caught five passes for 43 yards, an 8.6 yards-per-catch average.

Looking deeper at those numbers, Kincaid is averaging 4.1 yards of separation on every route he’s run, according to NFL Rookie Watch, and is on pace with finish with 77 receptions as a rookie.

That would be the second-best all-time mark for a rookie in a season at that position.

Keith Jackson holds the record with 81 receptions as a rookie with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1988, per StatMuse, while Jeremy Shockey had 74 with the New York Giants in 2002.

“Dalton has done a phenomenal job of getting himself going in his young NFL career,” Bills coach Sean McDermott told reporters Thursday. “He’s been physical at the point of attack.

“I think that was out there that people didn’t think that he was willing or able to be physical at the point of attack and he’s done that. He takes a lot of pride in that. He’s off to a good start.”


Indianapolis Colts running back Zack Moss takes the handoff from quarterback Gardner Minshew (10) during game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Sep. 17, 2023, in Houston.

Tyler Kaufman, Associated Press

Zack Moss

Utah tie: University of Utah.

Moss, a fourth-year running back, has turned a situation where he broke his arm early during training camp into an opportunity to where he led the Indianapolis Colts in rushing during the second week of the season.

The shifty Moss made his season debut last Sunday and ran for 88 yards on 18 carries in a 31-20 Colts win over the Houston Texans, adding an 11-yard rushing touchdown in the second quarter. He also caught four passes for 19 yards.

After falling out of favor in Buffalo, Moss is in his first full season with Indianapolis — and there’s some uncertainty with the Colts.

The team’s leading rusher the past three seasons, Jonathan Taylor, is currently on injured reserve and requested a trade back in July, with the team granting his admission to seek a trade in late August, per ESPN.

After missing a self-imposed Aug. 29 deadline to make a trade happen, it’s unclear what Taylor’s future is with the Colts.

How Taylor’s situation shakes out will have an impact on Moss, one way or another.

Colts first-year head coach Stan Steichen took notice of Moss’ hard-nosed running style during last week’s game, and how it impacted the team.

“He ran hard and breaking tackles — I think it just brings energy to the football team,” Steichen said, per the team website. “To get those two or three extra yards, tough running, is awesome to see. When guys do that, like I said I think guys feed off it, the offensive line feeds off it. The whole team, defense, special teams sees it and it gets the momentum going.”


San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner celebrates after the 49ers defeated the New York Giants in an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023.

Jed Jacobsohn, Associated Press

Other NFL standouts with Utah ties

These 10 other players with Utah ties are also off to strong starts this season. The list includes several standout defenders:

  • San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner (BYU) has contributed in a variety of ways for the 49ers over the first three weeks of the NFL season. (San Francisco beat the New York Giants on Thursday night.) On the year, he has 23 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, two pass deflections and a QB hit.
  • Linebacker Bobby Wagner (Utah State), who is in his second stint with the Seattle Seahawks, has 28 tackles and a tackle for loss on the year, including 18 in a season-opening loss to the Rams. His 28 tackles are second most in the NFL.
  • Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Devin Lloyd (University of Utah) has 14 tackles, two pass deflections and a fumble recovery and is coming off an 11-tackle effort.
  • Linebacker Kaden Elliss (Judge Memorial High), who’s in his first season with Atlanta after four years in New Orleans, has 15 tackles and a sack for the Falcons.

NFL Network reporter Jane Slater interviews New Orleans Saints wide receiver Rashid Shaheed after game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Sep. 10, 2023, in New Orleans.

Tyler Kaufman, Associated Press

  • Detroit Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell (Desert Hills High) has started one game each at left tackle and right tackle for a Lions team averaging 110 rushing yards per game. 
  • Denver Broncos offensive tackle Garett Bolles (University of Utah, Snow College, Westlake High) has started at left tackle for Denver in both of the team’s games so far this season. He’s back after missing most of the 2022 NFL season with a broken leg.
  • Washington Commanders linebacker Cody Barton (University of Utah and Brighton High) has 15 tackles and recovered a fumble last Sunday. This is his first season with the Commanders.
  • Atlanta Falcons running back Tyler Allgeier (BYU) scored two touchdowns in the team’s opener and has rushed for 123 yards on the year — with a four-yards-per-carry average — while adding 19 receiving yards.
  • New Orleans Saints tight end/quarterback/do-everything Taysom Hill (BYU) has rushed for 79 yards this season and completed one pass for eight yards. In the Saints’ win last Sunday, he helped filled in at running back when Jamaal Williams was hurt and had a team-high 75 rushing yards.


New Orleans Saints running back Jamaal Williams (21) runs the ball during game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Sep. 10, 2023, in New Orleans.

Tyler Kaufman, Associated Press

Which players with Utah ties are slowed due to injury?

There are a handful of other players with Utah ties who have high expectations this year but are missing time because of injuries:

  • New Orleans Saints running back Jamaal Williams (BYU) is expected to miss some time, according to Saints coach Dennis Allen, after injuring his hamstring in Week 2. Williams was an offseason addition for New Orleans after he had his first 1,000-yard rushing season last year in Detroit.
  • Baltimore Ravens safety Marcus Williams (University of Utah) suffered a pectoral injury during Week 1 but will forgo surgery and is expected back later this season, ESPN reported. He’s in his second season in Baltimore and missed time last year as well due to injury.
  • Chicago Bears offensive tackle Braxton Jones (Southern Utah and Murray High) landed on injured reserve this week with a neck injury, ensuring he misses the next four games.
  • Washington Commanders wide receiver Dax Milne (BYU and Bingham High) also was placed on injured reserve already this season with a groin injury.
  • Prior to the season beginning, Denver Broncos wide receiver Tim Patrick (University of Utah) was placed on IR, ending his 2023 season. This year is the second straight year Patrick is missing due to injury. The former undrafted wideout broke into Denver’s starting lineup and had nearly 1,500 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns combined in the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Baltimore Ravens safety Marcus Williams in action during game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023, in Baltimore. Williams is among a handful of players with Utah ties who is sidelined due to injury.

Terrance Williams, Associated Press