Four Cougars receive NFL opportunities on Saturday
PROVO, Utah — In addition to running back Tyler Allgeier being selected in this year’s NFL Draft, three other Cougars from the 2021 team reached agreements with NFL teams immediately following the conclusion of the draft on Saturday as undrafted free agents.
Wide receivers Neil Pau’u and Samson Nacua signed with the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts, respectively. Center James Empey, meanwhile, inked a free-agent deal with the Dallas Cowboys, the same team his father, Mike, a former BYU offensive lineman and coach, signed with in 1994 as a rookie free agent coming out of BYU.
“I’m really happy for our guys getting the chance to pursue their goals playing in the NFL,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake said. “It has been an honor to coach them and witness all the contributions they have each made to make our program better. I know they will continue to represent themselves and BYU well in the NFL.”
Allgeier was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with the eighth pick of the fifth round and 151st overall in the 2022 NFL Draft on Saturday. A 5-foot-11, 224-pound All-American from Fontana, California, Allgeier is the fifth-highest drafted running back in BYU football history and the 18th Cougar ball carrier overall to be drafted. NFL teams have drafted a former BYU player 149 times since the team’s first draft choice in 1938 (John Stringham, Back, 9th round).
With Empey, Nacua and Pau’u reaching agreements immediately following the draft, BYU now boasts another 205 former players receiving NFL opportunities as undrafted free agents. Additional free-agent opportunities could still be announced.
Bio information and quotes about the three BYU players receiving free-agent agreements after the 2022 NFL Draft are included below:
James Empey | OL | Dallas Cowboys
A two-time team captain and four-year starter for the Cougars, Empey was BYU’s starting center in all 41 games he played over his college career in Provo. He anchored a BYU offensive line that proved to be among the best in the nation during his career while helping the Cougar offense continue to improve and produce.
A 6-foot-3, 297-pound native of American Fork, Utah, Empey made an impact right away at BYU, being named a 2018 FWAA Freshman All-American and earned recognition from Pro Football Focus as the No. 1 freshman center in the country. He went on to become a three-time Rimington Trophy candidate for the best center in the nation and a two-time Outland Trophy Watch List honoree for the country’s top lineman.
In 2020, Empey helped captain a BYU offense that finished the season ranked top-10 in scoring (No. 4), total offense (No. 7), passing offense (No. 8) and most plays of 30 or more yards (No. 1) in 2020. The No. 11 ranked Cougars went 11-1 on the year and conceded just 12 sacks over 12 games (No. 8). This past season, Empey contributed as a captain to a BYU offense that earned a top-25 ranking in 32 different statistical categories while finishing with a 10-3 record and a No. 19 final ranking by The Associated Press to earn a top-20 AP ranking in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 2006 (No. 16) and 2007 (No. 14) seasons.
In 2021, Empey was named a preseason All-American by both Phil Steele and Athlon Sports and became a semifinalist for the Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award, the Wuerffel Trophy, the NFF William V. Campbell Trophy and the Rotary Lombardi Award as well as a finalist for the Pop Warner College Football Award. He was also a candidate for the 2021 AFCA Good Works Team.
In the classroom, Empey was a three-time CoSIDA Academic All-District selection who graduated with a 3.84 GPA as a finance major with a minor in nonprofit management. He was named to the National Football Foundation Hampshire Honor Society in 2022, which is comprised of college football players who maintained a cumulative 3.2 GPA or better throughout their college careers while being a starter or significant contributor. In addition to being voted a two-time team captain, Empey was a member of the BYU Football Leadership Council and served on the Student Athlete Advisory Council SAAC at BYU.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake on James Empey
"James can play any position. He’s extremely athletic and moves really well. But he’s also very cerebral and understands the game of football. He knows a lot of different positions, not just the offensive line spot. He knows what the running backs, tight ends, receivers and quarterbacks are thinking. To have someone that can do that and play all five positions, it’s a huge asset for a team. He’s the guy that can play different positions. We were lucky to have him as center majority of the time here. But, he can play left and right guard and left and right tackle too, and there’s not a lot of O-lineman that can do that."
BYU offensive line coach Darrell Funk on James Empey
"First of all, James Empey is as high class of a human being as there is. His character and his work ethic that he brought to BYU Football is unmatched. I only got a year of coaching him, but I wish I had more. I believe his future is bright. He’s tough and he’s smart. He knows the game inside and out. I’m super excited to watch what the future holds in store for him."
Samson Nacua | WR | Indianapolis Colts
Nacua played in 58 games, including 12 starts, during combined career at Utah and BYU. Known for his leadership and positive energy Nacua played four years at Utah from 2017-2020 before coming to BYU as a graduate transfer to conclude his college career, helping the Cougars achieve a 10-3 record an No. 19 final ranking in 2021.
A 6-foot-3, 206-pound receiver from Provo, Utah, Nacua totaled 103 receptions for 1,344 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns over his career. From his freshman campaign at Utah in 2017 to his graduate transfer season at BYU in 2021, Nacua was always a regular rotation player for his teams, missing only one game during the pandemic-shortened season in 2020.
This past season for BYU, Nacua played in all 13 games with four starts while making 21 receptions for 329 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 15.7 yards per catch. He recorded a collegiate career-high 107 yards on three receptions, averaging 35.7 yards per catch, including a scoring grab, to help BYU defeat Virginia of the ACC, 66-49, last season. He caught his first BYU touchdown against his former team, helping the Cougars earn a 26-17 over the No. 21-ranked Utes and eventual Pac-12 champions.
During the BYU Pro Day, Nacua posted a 4.48 40-yard dash with a 32-inch vertical leap and a 10-foot-1 broad jump. Nacua also recorded the best time of the day at the three-cone drill with a 6.75, which would have ranked eight out of all Combine competitors and third among wideouts. His 4.34 20-yard shuttle put him at sixth among Combine receivers.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake on Samson Nacua
“Samson just brought a different attitude and the unique ability to get everyone to feel confident. He did it with his example. It wasn’t really what he said, but his approach to life, just the way he is. He brought tons of energy, no fear, and a lot of happiness. He bought into the culture because that’s really inherently part of who he already is. He was able to get a lot of guys to come out of their shells and join in having as much fun as possible.”
BYU passing game coordinator Fesi Sitake on Samson Nacua
“In one year, Samson left a huge impression that's going to stick with us for a long time. He brings so much energy and passion and love and fun to this game. The guys realize how important that is. We’ve felt his presence missed a lot. He brought so much excitement and energy to this team. He's a great receiver. He's someone who I think is going to fit on an NFL roster. He's going to do a good job.”
Neil Pau’u | WR | Buffalo Bills
Pau’u played in 46 games for BYU over his four-year career, including 22 starts. From Santa Ana, California, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound receiver played effectively both inside and outside for the Cougars while totaling 1,484 receiving yards on 123 catches, including 13 touchdown grabs.
Highly productive on the field with his size and hands, Pau’u made 45 catches for 603 yards and four touchdowns in 2020 in his first season as a full-time starter. He played in double-digit games each season on the field for the Cougars while starting during three seasons overall. He caught touchdowns in every season he played for BYU, including his first game as a Cougar his freshman year.
In 2021, Pau’u led BYU with 46 receptions despite missing the last three games due to injury. He totaled 526 receiving yards and six touchdowns on the year, including five games with at least one scoring grab. He averaged 52.6 yards per game and 11.4 yards per catch wile helping the BYU offensive attach average 33 points per game and 452 yards of total offense per contest.
Pau’u recorded a career-high 126 yards on eight receptions to help BYU defeat Arizona, 24-16, in Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. Playing in the NFL venue, Pau’u also delivered two touchdowns for BYU among his eight catches in the game.
A two-time All-Independent Second Team honoree, Pau’u also received an invite to the Hula Bowl despite suffering an injury in BYU’s 10th game of the last season. Pau’u returned from his injury to post the best 20-yard shuttle time at the BYU Pro Day, clocking a 4.10, which would rate No. 2 among wide receivers at the NFL Combine. He also had 31-inch vertical and clocked a 6.95 three-cone drill, which ranked ninth overall and third among wide receivers compared to Combine times.
BYU head coach Kalani Sitake on Neil Pau'u
“He’s gone through a lot of different things and he’s faced some adversity and did it with a great attitude. To have an obstacle in your way and overcome it, then to go on and help and serve others, I’m really proud of him.”
BYU passing game coordinator Fesi Sitake on Neil Pau'u
“He’s been with the program forever, so he brings experience and he brings leadership, and we’re really going to miss him. He’s someone that has taught so many lessons to all the other receivers here on how to play the game, how to endure trials that hit you. We’re going to miss him a lot but I know he’s going to do great things at the next level.”