BYU’s Puka Nacua and Blake Freeland accepted invites to the Senior Bowl. What does that mean for their future?

BYU notebook: Evaluation of running back Hinckley Ropati and grading out the offensive line

(Jason Behnken | AP) BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua (12) scores on a 75-yard touchdown during the first half of the team's NCAA football game against South Florida on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.

Provo • For the last two weeks, nearly every player on BYU’s roster has insisted all decisions about their future will be made after the regular season.

That said, data points about what their decisions might be are starting to trickle out as the final week of the regular season comes.

Junior receiver Puka Nacua accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl this week, an event exclusively for players entering the NFL Draft. So too did offensive lineman Blake Freeland.

Their acceptance of the invite doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t return to BYU next year. Players can accept and then back out. However, it is an indication of their positive draft stock and likelihood to leave. If they play in the game, they cannot come back.

In recent days, offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said he believes Nacua could return to BYU.

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said. “But I can’t guarantee what he is doing either way. He is wise to accept the invitation, and then after the season gather information from the NFL about where he is projected to go. And then make a decision.”

Nacua has 45 catches for 592 yards and five touchdowns this year. He totaled 763 yards in eight games. He missed three games earlier this season with an ankle injury.

After the final home game of the season — where Nacua was honored as if he was leaving — the receiver said he hasn’t made up his mind yet on whether he is coming back. He loosely committed to playing in the bowl game.

“I think that is the plan,” Nacua said. “I haven’t really had the chance to look at it yet. That is a game scheduled for the Cougars and a game I will be playing in.”

Notably, quarterback Jaren Hall is yet been mentioned in the Senior Bowl discussion. Other quarterbacks, like Houston quarterback Clayton Tune, are starting to accept their invitations around this time. The invites are not accepted all at once, though, so there will be time to see if Hall is invited and goes.

Evaluation of Hinckley Ropati

Hinckley Ropati went from a little-used back who was an afterthought in BYU’s running back roon, to the starter last week.

He had 110 all-purpose yards against Boise State, then finished with 16 carries for 43 yards against Utah Tech.

The reason for his usage in Boise was mostly attributed to injuries. But last week, it was more for an evaluation. Ropati had been used so little in his career, Roderick said he wanted to grade him out to see if he is a viable option in the Big 12.

“Our thought was let’s get him some carries and be able to evaluate him better,” Roderick said. “We need a larger body of work to evaluate him.”

Roderick didn’t commit to using Ropati again this week against Stanford. With everyone healthy, Roderick will have running backs Chris Brooks, Miles Davis, Lopini Katoa and Ropati at his disposal this week.

Offensive line grades

This offensive line unit was said to be among the best in BYU football history this offseason. It was deep, with eight guys starting Power Five games. It added a five-star freshman in Kingsley Suamataia.

In terms of pass blocking, they have lived up the hype. It is the best pass blocking unit in the country, per Pro Football Focus. Yet, in run blocking, it ranks 45th. A number of times this year, BYU’s running backs have struggled to consistently gain yards.

Roderick’s overall assessment of the line, though, remains the same.

“Our O-line has played well this year,” he said. “I’m proud of those guys. That is a good group. They block well and have done a good job.”