When the Los Angeles Rams announced that Cooper Kupp would begin the season on injured reserve, that was supposed to significantly hinder their offense. He was targeted 191 times during his first-team All-Pro 2021 campaign. In 2022, Kupp had 98 targets in only nine games. In his place has stepped rookie fifth-round pick Puka Nacua. He has been targeted 35 times in two games, and hauled in 25 receptions.
Nacua became the first player in NFL history to tally at least 10 receptions for 100 yards in each of his first two games. His 15-catch, 147 yards performance on Sunday broke the rookie record for receptions in one game. The Rams may have lost 30-23 to the San Francisco 49ers, but Nacua proved in that game that he is here to stay 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 have been impressed by the young man’s performance throughout the offseason. His poise and playmaking has allowed Matt Stafford to feel wheel and deal even with his top pass sidelined for at least four weeks.
Nacua began his career at Washington. In his second year with that program, the COVID 2020 season in which the Huskies played only four games, he averaged 16.8 yards per catch. He decided to transfer to BYU in 2021 with his brother Samson. 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 of season rushing for 209 yards and five touchdowns.
He went low in the draft because of concerns about his speed and quickness, although some of his best performances at BYU were 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’s loss has been quite the gain for the Rams. Through two weeks they have found a player who — despite his youth — has been able to click with Stafford and help the Rams tread water at 1-1 through two games. Even though the 49ers are a buzzsaw, the Rams were able to keep up with them for three quarters. If not for two second-half interceptions — one of which went straight through the hands of a wide open Kyren Williams — they might have pulled off a massive upset.
If they had knocked off the mighty 49ers a major reason why would have been Nakua. This fifth-round draft pick was targeted 20 times in his second NFL game by a veteran quarterback with a Super Bowl ring.
The future is 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 might once again have one of the most dynamic passing attacks in the entire NFL.
Of course once Kupp returns he will be the focal point of the offense, and get the lionshare of the targets. However, the pass-catching threat who has caught 25 passes in two games, and the attention of the entire NFL, has the Rams already thinking playoffs one year after going 5-12.
I guess Nakua is quick enough for the NFL after all.