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Top 10 Offensive Skill Players of BYU Football’s Independence Era

BYU fans have enjoyed watching many offensive stars come through Provo. Which make it into the top 10 of the independence era?

BYU v Michigan State Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

BYU had their fair share of elite athletes come through Provo over the last dozen years. Between running backs, receivers, and tight ends, the Cougars have boasted some great talents at the offensive skill positions. This will be a ranking of the top 10 skill players on offense that BYU had during the era of independence.

10. Dax Milne

It’s amazing what one season can do. He went from former walk-on to NFL Draft pick at BYU. Thanks to his partnership with Zach Wilson in 2020, he caught 70 passes for 1,188 yards and eight touchdowns. He ranks fifth in school history for single-season receiving yards.

He exploded for 184 yards and three touchdowns in BYU’s 43-26 victory over Houston. His breakout campaign earned himself a seventh round selection by the Washington Commanders. This past season, he led the NFL in total punt returns.

9. Puka Nacua

Yes, he started his career at Washington. However, after transferring to BYU, he became an instant catalyst for the offense. He clearly was the best overall athlete BYU had during his two years in Provo. He endeared himself to Cougar fans almost immediately upon his arrival. His debut as a Cougar came against Utah, as he caught four passes for 37 yards, helping get BYU over the hump in finally beating Utah.

He opened the 2022 season with about as big of a bang as you can. It was 75-yard jet sweep turned into a long touchdown run on the first play from scrimmage of the entire season against USF. He also rushed for a second touchdown in the game.

Unfortunately, he got injured in this game, which limited his availability for much of the season. Even still, he finished with 625 receiving yards, 209 rushing yards, and 10 total touchdowns. Also, who could forget his toe-tapping wizardry against Boise State? BYU will be hard-pressed to replace Nacua in 2023.

Had Nacua been able to have another fully healthy season in Provo, he might be considered one of the better receivers to ever play at BYU.

8. Isaac Rex

Rex is the only member of this list that is currently still on the team. He will BYU’s first main tight end in the Big 12 era. His 2020 campaign was as good as any by a BYU tight end in the last decade. He caught 37 passes for 429 yards and a whopping 12 touchdowns, which tied Florida’s Kyle Pitts for the lead among all college tight ends. It also ranked third-most in the country.

His production has tapered since that breakout season, but he still has had big moments. He caught six touchdowns in 2022, including two against Stanford. 2023 might be a big season for Rex.

7. Matt Bushman

It feels like Bushman should be higher on this list. Bushman was probably the most talented tight end BYU had since Dennis Pitta. Injuries got in the way of Bushman having an all-time great career in Provo. Still, his numbers are solid. He had three consecutive seasons of at least 500 receiving yards.

He totaled 1,719 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in his BYU career, finishing with the most career receiving yards by a tight end in the independence era.

6. Gunner Romney

Here is another impressive player who certainly could have been higher. Still, Romney put together a few great seasons in Provo. After seeing limited action in 2018 and 2019, he broke out in 2020 with 39 catches for 767 yards and two scores. He also added a rushing touchdown. He started that season with three consecutive 100-yard games.

He was one of the most physically gifted receivers BYU had during their independence era. He had over 1,300 receiving yards between 2020 and 2021. He finished his career with 1,959 yards. Injuries prevented him from becoming a true all-time great but he made a big impact when he was able to be on the field.

5. Lopini Katoa

It might seem strange to put a perrennial backup running back so high on this list. Allow me to explain. He put together five seasons in Provo with at least 60 carries and 240 yards. He had two 400-yard campaigns. Also, twice he had over 280 receiving yards on top of his rushing efforts.

While he was only briefly the main feature back in the offense, only reaching the 20-carry mark in a game once in his career, he was a key cog in the offensive machine BYU had. He provided quality depth behind Tyler Allgeier and Christopher Brooks. BYU is going to miss Katoa being an option to give their main back a breather and provide a threat out of the backfield in the passing game on third downs.

He finished his BYU career ninth all-time in total touchdowns scored from scrimmage.

4. Mitch Mathews

For some players, it helps to be attached to an iconic moment in BYU history. Of course, Mathews had a fine career overall, with 2,079 receiving yards and 24 receiving touchdowns, which ranks fifth all-time at BYU. He had 922 yards and nine touchdowns in 2014. He added 11 more touchdowns with 737 yards in 2015.

All that being said, Mathews will be most remembered for one play in Lincoln, Nebraska in 2015. BYU was down by one and too far for a field goal attempt. It was up to backup quarterback Tanner Mangum to toss a Hail Mary into a sea of red against the Cornhuskers. Mathews positioned himself perfectly and caught the ball right at the goal line for the walk-off, Hail Mary touchdown and the win. It is one of the most iconic plays in BYU football history, and it was much thanks to Mathews’ body control and skills with his hands.

3. Cody Hoffman

Hoffman is still the undisputed best receiver BYU had during the independence era. The combination of longevity and production is hard to ignore. Granted over 500 yards and seven scores of his career came in the last year of the Mountain West era in 2010. However, he put together three stellar seasons to start BYU’s independence. From 2011 to 2013, he had three straight seasons of at least 890 yards and five touchdowns.

The 2012 season truly put him on another level. Eight times, he posted at least 100 receiving yards in a game that season. Against New Mexico State, he caught five touchdown passes along with 182 yards. That was on his way to a stellar 1,248 receiving yards, the second-most by a BYU receiver ever, and 11 touchdowns that year.

He still is BYU’s all-time leading receiver at 3,612 yards and 33 touchdowns.

2. Tyler Allgeier

Another feel-good story in BYU history is Allgeier. He started his career as a walk-on, then moved to linebacker, before returning to the running back position. He ended it as one of the best running backs to ever don the “stretch Y” logo.

His final two seasons, in 2020 and 2021, were two of some of the most productive seasons by any BYU running back. He had a ho-hum 1,100 rushing yards with 13 touchdowns in 2020. Little did we know, that was him just warming up.

2021 was a different level entirely. He rushed for at least 100 yards in seven different games. He reached the 200-yard mark twice, including an absolutely bonkers 266 yards against Virginia. He scored five touchdowns against the Cavaliers as well, which tied a school record.

He finished his season with 1,601 rushing yards, breaking Luke Staley’s previous record of 1,582. His 23 rushing scores were just one shy of Staley’s all-time mark. He is fifth all-time in career rushing yards and third in touchdowns.

1. Jamaal Williams

You were expecting someone else? His current NFL popularity is starting to overshadow the absolute stud he was in Provo. Right out of the gate in 2012, it was clear to see he was a special talent, even still as a teenager. He rushed for 775 yards and 12 scores as a true freshman.

He broke out in a big way in 2013, totaling 1,233 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. He struggled with injuries and being dismissed from the program temporarily between 2014 and 2016. That’s what makes his story even greater. He could have gone elsewhere and had a sour taste in his mouth about BYU, but he stayed. He stayed and became BYU’s all-time leading rusher in 2016.

Against Toledo in 2016, he ran for 286 yards, which is still BYU’s single-game record. As mentioned, Williams ended his career as BYU’s top rusher in program history.