When the LA Rams drafted rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua, there was no was to predict or guess that veteran All-Pro wide receiver Cooper Kupp would start the 2023 NFL season on IR. While Nacua has certainly stepped into Kupp's void and his own version of record setting NFL football in his first three games, he may never have gotten the opportunity to do much of anything in this LA Rams offense in three games.
He simply had an unexpected opportunity handed to him in the first four games of the 2023 NFL season, and he delivered. In fact, he has delivered more quickly as a rookie NFL wide receiver than any other NFL receiver in the recorded history of the game. And yet, Nacua lost out on the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month to Houston Texans rookie QB C.J. Stroud. Did Stroud deserve the honors? He completed 78 of 121 passes for 906 yards, four touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. After 3 weeks, that is only good enough for sixth place in the NFL passer rankings, behind the LA Rams' own QB Matthew Stafford.
Competition for a top spot in the NFL is more than twice as difficult. And yet, rookie WR Puka Nacua is ranked the fourth best wide receiver in the NFL with 30 receptions and 338 yards. Best of all, he is doing all of this not because he was the first overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Rather, he was a rookie who was disregarded 176 times in the draft before the LA Rams called out his name.
Puka Nacua's destiny is his own
Some rookies enter the NFL with a chip on their shoulder, using the fact that they fell further than expected in the draft selection process inspires those players to prove the other NFL teams wrong. But rather than follow that cliche', Rams rookie WR Puka Nacua is more about proving the LA Rams right about selecting him.
After all, if you have noticed, the Rams seldom give rookie receivers such a significant numbers of offensive snaps as soon as the regular season begins. And yet, the Rams have done so with Nacua and never looked back.
The thing about it is that we will never know just how much the unexpected injury to Cooper Kupp played in the instant success of Nacua in the LA Rams offense. But it most certainly did create the opportunity. But everything that has happened since he arrived on the LA Rams roster has all been earned through his own doing.
Yes, Puka Nacua is that good
We can write quite a bit about how well the LA Rams drafted in 2023. But it does come down to talented young players getting plenty of opportunities to not only play the game, but the leeway to make mistakes and learn from them. So far, the LA Rams have gotten significant contributions from:
- IOL Steve Avila - 36th overall
- OLB Byron Young - 77th overall
- NT Kobie Turner - 89th overall
- WR Puka Nacua - 177th overall
- P Ethan Evans - 223rd overall
That is a tremendously successful draft class, particularly in light of the fact that this season is just three games old. And the Rams are getting plenty of help on special teams and light rotational roles. But few have made as significant on any NFL team like Puka Nacua has this year. How good is he? Just ask fantasy football owners:
Will Nacua sustain that level of production after Cooper Kupp returns? I don't know, but I would guess that he will see a setback in his number of targets. Kupp will certaintly get the most targets per game once more. But will the Rams view Nacua as merely a second fiddle to Kupp, or worthy of targets as well?
The LA Rams are 1-2, and that is thanks to the unexpected performance of Puka Nacua. If the Rams have any chance of success this season, Nacua not only has to perform just as well all season. But the Rams have to give him the opportunity to perform as well.