After his dominant start to the 2023 campaign, everyone is asking where Los Angeles Rams WR Puka Nacua came from. It seems like he simply spawned out of thin air and became Matthew Stafford’s top target, but Nacua has been a playmaker for a long time.
Background Information on Rams New Star Puka Nacua
Heading into the Rams’ Week 3 contest against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football, Nacua had 25 receptions for 266 yards.
Nacua is the first NFL player with at least 10 catches and 100 yards in his first two career games. His 25 receptions through his first two games are the most ever by a rookie within that stretch. And his 15 receptions in Week 2 against the 49ers marked a single-game rookie record.
It’s safe to say Nacua has made waves since hitting the field for the Rams. Cooper Kupp’s absence has helped Nacua find a role early. Still, Nacua himself has also been extremely impressive — more impressive than many expected the fifth-round, 177th overall pick to be early in his career.
Nacua was just the 20th wide receiver selected in the 2023 NFL Draft, but he’s always been on the radar as a standout playmaker.
As a senior at Orem High School in Orem, Utah, Nacua amassed 103 catches, 2,336 yards, and 26 touchdowns. He was a four-star recruit in the national top 50 in the 2019 class and originally committed to the Washington Huskies. But after playing sparingly through two seasons, he moved back home to Provo to join up with the BYU Cougars.
At BYU, Nacua’s most productive collegiate seasons came to fruition. In 2021, Nacua caught 43 passes for 805 yards and six touchdowns, averaging nearly 20 yards per catch. In 2022, he racked up 48 catches for 625 yards and five touchdowns and accumulated 209 yards and five touchdowns on 25 carries.
Nacua’s NFL Draft Scouting Report Told of Upside
Nacua leveraged his production at BYU into a Senior Bowl audition, where he again impressed evaluators with his work in 1-on-1s. He also tested at BYU’s Pro Day, putting up solid but non-elite numbers: 4.57 40-yard dash, 121″ broad jump, and a 33″ vertical.
Nacua’s non-elite athletic tools were a hang-up for some during the pre-draft process and may have been a reason why he fell to Day 3. But as this excerpt from his 2023 NFL Draft scouting report shows, Nacua’s explosive ability proved to be an asset at the collegiate level, and he also proved he could employ that explosiveness as a versatile weapon.
“At 6’2″, 205 pounds, Nacua has great size and length, and he compounds it with his acceleration capacity upfield. Especially when he has a runway to open his strides, he can stress defenses with his speed. That speed allows him to earn one-on-one opportunities downfield and extend short passes across the middle.
Nacua worked on the boundary most often at BYU, but he can also be used in motion — opening the possibilities for him as an X or Z receiver in the NFL. Beyond his physical traits, he also has a working release package, and while his route tree is mostly vertical, he flashes the necessary stopping ability and sink to develop.”
When you think about using weapons and exhausting their versatility, few NFL play-callers are better at doing just that than Rams head coach Sean McVay. McVay’s offensive creativity was a key accelerant for Kupp’s production during his dominant 2021 campaign.
Nacua has already shown that he has the tools to be used with similar freedom across the formation, and he can consistently convert at the catch point with his near-elite body control and instincts. Already, it looks like the Rams got a steal — and he’s showing no signs of stalling out.