One of the most impressive rookies in the NFL this season has been Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua. Nacua started the season at a historic pace, but seemingly continues to break records every week.
Now that we are officially at the halfway mark of the season, analysts in the media handed out their midseason awards. While Nacua is still in the Offensive Rookie of the Year conversation, he has seemingly been overtaken in the media by CJ Stroud. A perfect example of this is Bill Barnwell of ESPN who selected Stroud as his midseason Offensive Rookie of the Year after taking Nacua at the quarter-season mark. Barnwell said of Nacua,
“It was an inevitability that Nacua would see his numbers decline after the return of Cooper Kupp, but he’s still way ahead of the competition. His 827 receiving yards is nearly 300 more than any other first-year receiver’s...With half a season to go, Nacua is within 10 yards of the rookie receiving record for fifth-round picks, trailing only Herschel Walker. Even over the past month...he has 25 catches on 44 targets for 326 yards and 2.4 yards per route run...Nacua’s one weakness has been getting into the end zone. Still, he’s on pace for nearly 1,600 receiving yards. It’s going to take something special over the second half to get him out of the top three here.”
At the quarter season mark, I wrote that it was inevitable that this would eventually happen. These types of awards tend to go to quarterbacks, especially if there is a standout rookie. That wasn’t necessarily the case at the quarter-season mark which is why Nacua led the conversation. Even at that time, Stroud was favored by the sports books.
Since then, Stroud has seen as astronomical rise in his level of play which has the Houston Texans at 4-4 and in the heat of the AFC playoff race. It is shocking, however, how Nacua has fallen so far out of the conversation.
Nacua only received two votes in NFL.com’s poll of 27 analysts. Two single votes. The two analysts who voted for him were Maurice Jones-Drew and Chad Reuter. David Carr who voted for Stroud said,
“The No. 2 overall pick faced an uphill battle as a rookie in a Texans organization in rebuild mode, but he has matured quickly behind a rock-solid offensive line. Stroud’s pocket poise, arm talent and athleticism are on display each time he takes the field, keeping Houston (4-4) in the thick of the AFC South race. Oh, and he’s absolutely delivered in big moments (SEE: game-winning TD vs. Tampa). It feels as though he’s setting records by the week (his one INT through eight games is unheard of for a rookie), proving the Texans have found their franchise quarterback. He’s the real deal.”
Stroud also dominated in The 33rd Team’s poll as Nacua didn’t receive a single vote in their 10 person expert panel. Former Rams head coach Mike Martz, who now contributes for The 33rd Team said, “He is the best I’ve seen. Incredible.”
Again, while it’s not surprising that Stroud has overtaken Nacua, for the Rams wide receiver to not receive a single vote is to fail to recognize what has been another historic season by a rookie.
PFF selected Stroud as their midseason rookie of the year as well along with Pro Football Network. Dallas Robinson of Pro Football Network wrote, “Nacua is now a distant second in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race — because Houston Texans QB C.J. Stroud is running away with this award.”
It’s certainly fair to question whether or not there is some recency bias here. Stroud is coming off of a 475-yard performance in Week 9 with the Texans rising while the Rams continue to fall. Nate Tice of The Athletic and who writes Yahoo Sports handed out his awards a week ago. Stroud wasn’t even mentioned in Tice’s column. Here’s what Tice had to say,
“Due respect to the game’s linemen, but it’s Nacua. He had fans during the draft process, including myself, but zero percent of me expected this. Nacua currently sits third in receptions and yards and fourth in receiving first downs. And that’s among all NFL players. He’s behind only two players who are currently favorites for Offensive Player of the Year!”
We’ll see if Nacua can pick of some ground over the next few weeks. He should have an opportunity against the Seattle Seahawks following the bye week who he put up 119 yards against in Week 1.
At this point, it’s going to be an uphill battle for Nacua. With CJ Stroud firmly in the lead in the eyes of the media, it’s going to take either another meteoric rise from Nacua or a major fall from the Texans quarterback.