When the Los Angeles Rams announced that Cooper Kupp would start the season on injured reserve, which would significantly hinder their offense. He was targeted 191 times during his first-team All-Pro 2021 campaign. In 2022, Kupp had 98 goals in just nine games. In his place has stepped up rookie fifth-round pick Puka Nacua. He has been targeted 35 times in two games and has hauled in 25 receptions.
Nacua became the first player in NFL history to record at least 10 receptions for 100 yards in each of his first two games. His 15-catch, 147-yard performance on Sunday broke the rookie record for receptions in a single game. The Rams may have lost 30-23 to the San Francisco 49ersbut Nacua proved in that game that he will remain here as a featured option in the Rams offense.
The Rams selected Nacua out of BYU in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draft. They were impressed with the young man’s performance throughout the offseason. Matt Stafford’s poise and playmaking ability has allowed him to feel and handle the wheel, even with his top pass sidelined for at least four weeks.
Nacua started his career in Washington. In his second year with that program, the COVID 2020 season in which the Huskies played just four games, he averaged 16.8 yards per catch. He decided to transfer to BYU in 2021 along with his brother Samson. In his first year in Provo, Nacua averaged 18.7 yards per reception, hauled in six touchdowns and also ran for 148 yards. As a senior, he had a Deebo Samuel-type season rushing for 209 yards and five touchdowns.
He went low in the draft due to concerns about his speed and speed, although some of his best performances at BYU came against Power 5 opponents. In a game against Arkansas last season, Nacua caught 8 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown, and also reached the end zone twice on the ground.
The rest of the NFL loss was quite a gain for the Rams. Over the course of two weeks, they found a player who – despite his youth – was able to connect with Stafford and help the Rams draw 1-1 in two games. Even though the 49ers are a buzzsaw, the Rams were able to keep up with them for three quarters. Had it not been for two interceptions in the second half – one of which went straight through the hands of a wide-open Kyren Williams – they might have pulled off a huge upset.
If they had knocked off the mighty 49ers, Nakua would have been a major reason. The fifth-round draft pick was targeted 20 times by a veteran quarterback with a Super Bowl ring in his second NFL game.
The future looks bright for Nakua, and for the Rams whose “F them picks” approach to the NFL Draft finally caught up with them last season – along with injuries to Stafford, Kupp and Aaron Donald. When they add Kupp back to this offense, the Rams could once again have one of the most dynamic passing attacks in the entire NFL.
Once Kupp returns, he will obviously be the center of the attack and get the lion’s share of targets. However, the passing threat that has caught 25 passes in two games and the attention of the entire NFL has the Rams already thinking about the playoffs a year after going 5-12.
I think Nakua is fast enough for the NFL after all.