Puka Nacua burst onto the NFL scene with an impressive debut in Week 1, and the Los Angeles Rams rookie wide receiver also is drawing some special attention from heralded teammates Cooper Kupp and Matthew Stafford.
“After 15 targets in Week 1, Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua should be a big part of the game plan against the [San Francisco] 49ers despite an oblique injury,” wrote Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. “He has been a revelation for L.A. (119 yards in Week 1), becoming such a fast learner that Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp have spent extra film time with him. Clearly, they see something.”
Nacua got his opportunity in large part because Kupp is on injured reserve with a hamstring issue and cannot play in the first four games of the season.
The fifth-round pick (No. 177 overall) in the 2023 NFL Draft out of Brigham Young University definitely took advantage, making 10 catches for those 119 receiving yards in the 30-13 win at the Seattle Seahawks last Sunday. The 15 targets tied Miami Dolphins superstar Tyreek Hill for the most in Week 1, and his 10 receptions trailed only Hill’s 11 in the opening week of the season.
“Because of the thousands of reps that he’s gotten with Matthew, he can probably tell us how to run these routes with his eyes closed,” Nacua said of Kupp this week. “And he’s like, ‘Hey, Matthew is expecting you to be here.’ So I’m trying to get that from him.”
The 22-year-old became the fourth player to make at least 10 catches and gain at least 100 receiving yards in his NFL debut. Now a very popular fantasy football waiver wire pickup, Nacua has a chance to make more NFL history on Sunday against the 49ers.
No player drafted in the fifth round or later has made more than 14 receptions in his first two games, and the record for any player’s first two games is 19 catches.
Nacua is listed as questionable on the injury report with an oblique injury, but head coach Sean McVay said Friday he expects him to be able to play. But the task could be a difficult one facing the vaunted 49ers defense in the Rams’ home opener. However, San Francisco did allow 31 receptions to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday in a 30-7 win.
Nacua wasn’t the only receiver to excel for the Rams in Kupp’s absence. Tutu Atwell contributed six receptions on eight targets and also gained 119 receiving yards.
McVay said he hopes Kupp will be able to return when he becomes eligible to do so in Week 5, so Nacua has plenty of time to secure an important role even when the former Super Bowl MVP is back.
Not much was expected of the Rams heading into this season, but after a convincing season-opening win against a division rival and the surprising performances from Nacua and Atwell, that outlook might need to be raised a bit.