All due respect to Brock Purdy for quarterbacking the 49ers for less than $1 million this season, the best value player in the NFL plays for the Los Angeles Rams and he proved it again from the first play to the last in a win over the Indianapolis Colts: His name is Puka Nacua.
Starting the game with a 26-yard catch on the opening play from Matthew Stafford and finishing with a 22-yard touchdown in overtime to give the Rams a 29-23 win in overtime, Puka has been a top-five receiver in the NFL to start his career. He finished with nine catches for 163 yards and is not only setting rookie records, but also proving to be one of the most valuable and prolific receivers of all-time through a team’s first four games.
He’s doing it all for a fifth round rookie payment of $811,245.
Well over 100 receivers in the NFL make more than that. Even Demarcus Robinson, L.A.’s number six receiver, makes over $900,000.
It’s understandable, that’s what players make right now when they are the last pick of the fifth round. But Puka has played better than all of his rookie counterparts at receiver and should be first or second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting through the first four games of the season. The only reason Puka may not rank first for some right now is that C.J. Stroud is doing it at the quarterback position, but on a pound for pound basis, nobody has been more shockingly good to start his career than Nacua.
While some rookie receivers signed fully-guaranteed contracts worth around $20 million, the Rams will get three cheap fifth round seasons (with bonuses to apply for outplaying his contract, we can virtually guarantee) before having to even think about what Nacua could be worth on his first veteran deal. That’s then, this is now.
Right now, Puka Nacua has been a value unlike any other in the NFL.
He has 39 catches for 501 yards and just scored his first career touchdown. Not his last career touchdown.
Nacua is the seventh player in history to have at least 39 catches through his team’s first four games of a season. He joins DeAndre Hopkins in 2020, Wes Welker, Adam Thielen in 2018, Michael Thomas in 2018, and...Cooper Kupp, when he tied Thomas’s record of 42 catches in four games last season.
The Rams could get Kupp back from IR as soon as next week against the Eagles. How Matthew Stafford could target Nacua less moving forward is anyone’s guess, but it’s the type of problem Sean McVay is happy to solve compared to how things went for L.A. last season.
Puka’s 501 yards through four games is the 19th-highest mark in history, just edging out former Rams receiver Elroy Hirsch, who had 500 through four in 1951.
The 501 yards is a rookie record though, beating out Anquan Boldin’s former mark of 464 yards in 2003. Not only is the 39 catches a record too, but even if Puka had zero catches in Week 5, he’d still have the record: Reggie Bush previously held the five-game record with 34 catches, but that won’t even be close to Puka.
Puka needs just 43 yards to surpass Billy Howton for the most yards through five games, which Howton set with the Packers in 1952. Puka already has more yards than Boldin did through five games in 2003, when he had 497. Randy Moss had 463 yards with the Minnesota Vikings in his first five games of 1998.
Moss and Boldin were also incredible values, although somewhat expected as first and second round picks. Nacua is doing this as a fifth rounder who was the 20th receiver drafted in 2023. He has more yards than all four first rounders combined.
That’s one hell of a value. Probably the best at any position in the NFL.