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Is Puka Nacua more likely now to win Offensive Rookie of the Year than CJ Stroud?

Does Rams WR Puka Nacua or Texans QB CJ Stroud have the early edge for Rookie of the Year?

Los Angeles Rams v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The four-game mark is typically seen as the “quarter-season” milestone of the NFL season. It’s at this point where media and analysts will release their early-season award predictions. When it comes to the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, there looks to be a lot of competition. One of the players in that conversation is Los Angeles Rams wide receiver, Puka Nacua.

Right now, Nacua seems to be competing with Atlanta Falcons running back Bijan Robinson who is tied for third in the NFL in rushing yards. Quarterback CJ Stroud of the Houston Texans has yet to throw an interception. As the quarterback in this discussion, Stroud is the player that seems to be the biggest threat to Nacua.

Nacua’s 39 catches and 501 receiving yards are both NFL records for a player in thier first four games in the NFL. It’s also the record for the most through five games. The Rams rookie is just the second player ever to have over 100 receiving yards in three of their first four weeks. Nacua set a rookie record in Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers with 15 receptions in a single game.

Meanwhile, Stroud currently has 1,212 passing yards and six touchdown passes. More impressively, he has yet to throw an interception. Stroud is currently on pace for 5,151 passing yards which would shatter Andrew Luck’s record in 2012.

Through four games, the Offensive Rookie of the Year award is a two-player race. However, as it is with most awards, the quarterback typically gets the upper-hand. Despite the historic start to his season, Nacua is behind Stroud in the Sportsbooks. According to Draft Kings, Stroud currently leads the pack with +175 odds. Nacua is way behind him at +425 with Robinson at +450 and actually leading Nacua in some sports books.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell gave up quarter-season awards this week and while Robinson, Stroud, and Nacua made up the top-three, it was Nacua that came in at number one. Here’s what Barnwell had to say,

“A rookie quarterback playing league-average football is almost always going to be Offensive Rookie of the Year for the first quarter of the season. Stroud ranks second here because what Nacua has done might not have many parallels in recent history. We’ve seen receivers put together spectacular starts to their careers, but it has usually been from first-round picks...Fifth-round picks like Nacua are more likely to be cut than start in Week 1. Thirteen fifth-round picks in NFL history finished their rookie season with more than 500 receiving yards. Nacua has 501 receiving yards in his first four games. While acknowledging that we play in an era with inflated receiving statistics, no wideout — not Jefferson, not Moss, not anybody else — has managed to hit 500 yards in their first four games...When Kupp originally went down before the season with his hamstring injury, it seemed like the Rams would be hopeless on offense. Now, with Kupp set to return, it seems like they have one of the league’s best one-two punches at wide receiver. Nacua has emerged as a superstar overnight.

The wrench in all this is that Cooper Kupp will return to the field shortly, if not this week against the Philadelphia Eagles. While Nacua will still have a large role in the offense, it’s going to be impossible for him to maintain the same level of production.

As we saw with Kupp’s triple crown season, sometimes a historic season still isn’t enough to overthrow a quarterback for the top offensive awards. However, with the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, skill positions do have more of a chance to win.

Last season, Garrett Wilson beat out Kenneth Walker and Brock Purdy. Had Purdy played the whole year or been a first-round pick, would he have gotten the edge? In 2021, Ja’Marr Chase edged quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson. Lawrence and Wilson each had poor rookie seasons.

When a skill position player has won the award, it’s typically happened when a rookie quarterback hasn’t stood out. That’s not the case with Stroud who is currently having a historic rookie season himself.

Justin Herbert beat Justin Jefferson for Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020 despite Jefferson having 1400 receiving yards. Kyler Murray threw for only 3700 yards with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2019 and still managed to beat Josh Jacobs and AJ Brown.

There’s still a lot of season with a lot of games left to be played. Who knows where Stroud and Nacua end up after 17 weeks. Still, it’s an interesting discussion given how both players have started their rookie campaigns.