The rookie has already been oft-referred to as Robert Woods 2.0, a potential candidate for the WR#2 role (which would require beating out fourth-year receiver Van Jefferson), praised for his performance in the team’s offseason workouts, and identified by a major media outlet as a sleeper who could contribute right away.
Nacua is a big bodied receiver that specializes in yards after the catch (YAC)—which made him a very appealing prospect to teams that deploy the Shanahan/McVay style of offense. That’s exactly where he landed, and Sean McVay and the Rams are well-positioned to make the most of his skillset. With that said, there’s still reasons to be concerned with Nacua’s transition to the NFL.
There are three major reasons not to buy into the Puka Nacua hype just yet:
1 - The Rams don’t seem to utilize rookie receivers
Unless your name is Cooper Kupp, winner of the receiving Triple Crown
Los Angeles has drafted the following six WR’s since McVay joined the team in 2017 with their first-year statistics:
3rd round - Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington
94 targets, 62 receptions, 869 yards, 5 TD’s in 15 games (6 starts)
4th round - Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
24 targets, 11 receptions, 104 yards, and 1 TD in 16 games (1 start)
2018 & 2019: None
2nd round - Van Jefferson, Florida
31 targets, 19 receptions, 220 yards, and 1 TD in 16 games (no starts)
2nd round - Tutu Atwell, Louisville
Not targeted but appeared in eight games
7th round - Ben Skowronek, Notre Dame
20 targets, 11 receptions, 133 yards in 14 games (1 start)
5th round - Puka Nacua, BYU
Of this group only Kupp made a sizeable impact as a rookie, but this was the first year of the McVay Rams and times were different. LA had just turned over its entire receiving corps by signing Robert Woods, drafting Kupp and Reynolds, and trading with the Buffalo Bills for Sammy Watkins. The group wasn’t as established back then as they are now, and there was effectively an open season on playing time.
The role Jefferson and Skowronek played as rookies will likely be more representative for Nacua than Kupp, but certainly stranger things have happened.
Puka Nacua film day on this fine Sunday morning.— Tyler_FF (@Tyler_FF_) June 4, 2023
Are we too low on him? pic.twitter.com/FfjNYH00FQ
2 - Nacua was widely considered as a “raw” route runner
It’s more of a knock on the BYU offensive scheme than the skillset of Nacua, but it could still take time for the rookie to adapt to a full professional route tree. In college the receiver ran a very limited array of routes and was used more as a gadget-type player than a full-fledged wide out—but that also highlights his athletic capabilities and his fit in the Rams’ preferred style of offense.
Here are Bleacher Report’s Derrik Klassen’s thoughts on Nacua’s abilities entering the draft:
— Route tree was limited at BYU. Used as more of a hybrid gadget player than legitimate wide receiver.
— Below-average route-running skills. Too clunky getting in and out of breaks.
Puka Nacua is the perfect wide receiver for the Shanahan-style offense that permeates the league.
He is raw, though. BYU did not ask him to run many routes beyond slants, go balls or under routes—all of which allowed him to use his burst and speed without much tact.
On the occasion Nacua was asked to run more refined routes, his footwork tended to be clunky and he didn’t quite sink and explode out of those routes comfortably. He has the athletic tools to do it; he just didn’t look comfortable or prepared to do so.
PRO COMPARISON: Discount Deebo Samuel
3 - LA’s depth chart seems pretty loaded for 2023
Kupp and Jefferson are inked in at the top two spots, though Jefferson needs to prove that he’s ready for the title of WR#2—he’s been inconsistent when the team has handed him larger roles.
Tutu Atwell and Ben Skowronek should split duties as WR#3, and they starkly different skillsets should serve as changeup pitches that will keep defenses on their toes. Atwell has the ability to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally with his game-breaking speed, and Skowronek is a WR/TE/FB hybrid that can be deployed in a number of different ways.
All of this Puka Nacua hype for him to likely catch 8 passes next season.— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakTST) June 3, 2023
The recently signed Tyler Johnson, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, should be penciled in as WR#5 at the moment. He’s a former fifth round pick that has contributed in big time moments. Johnson has effectively had two full years to nurse back to health, and if he can’t make the Rams roster he will soon be out of the NFL.
That effectively leaves the sixth receiver spot for either Nacua or second-year UDFA Lance McCutcheon, and it’s fair to expect the fifth rounder to have an edge over a player LA has no sunk cost in.
Training camp will play an important part in deciding the pecking order amongst this group, but it’s difficult to see Nacua climbing all the way up to WR#3 over Atwell, Skowronek, and Johnson. Without doing so—and barring a slew of injuries to the group—it’s tough to see the rookie carve out a meaningful role in the 2023 offense.