One game could be an anomaly and two games could be a coincidence, but at some point we will have to accept that Puka Nacua is a special talent who should not have been a fifth round pick. Not just a fifth round pick, but the fourth player who the L.A. Rams even selected in the fifth round of the 2023 draft, and now an NFL rookie record holder for single-game receptions and catches through two games.
Through two games, Puka plays like he’s second to nobody and the Rams must be feeling some relief that even if they have missed on recent second and third round picks like Cam Akers and Terrell Burgess, at least they seem to have found a huge day three steal with their fifth round wonder.
A week after catching 10 passes for 119 yards in his NFL debut, Nacua set an NFL rookie record with 15 catches in Week 2 against the San Francisco 49ers. He also had 147 yards and his two-week totals give him the NFL record for most receptions through two career games and the second-most yards behind only Anquan Boldin in 2003. Rams fans were hoping that Nacua could just hold up the bridge while Cooper Kupp missed games due to a hamstring injury, but now he’s looking like a true number two to the 2021 Offensive Player of the Year and an early frontrunner for 2023’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Surprisingly, Nacua’s 147 yards is only the seventh-highest total for a Rams rookie in franchise history. Eddie Kennison holds the team record with 266 yards in Week 16 of 1996 season. However, Puka still has 15 more games to go and we’ve already estimated him so far.
His time with the Rams couldn’t have come at a better time.
"He's the epitome of what we want to be as Rams. I love Puka Nacua." pic.twitter.com/Sh1LCGCK0J— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 18, 2023
In 2021, the San Francisco 49ers traded two future first round picks in order to move up to third overall to select quarterback Trey Lance. It could have been a move that sunk the 49ers for years, but general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan have sidestepped the normal criticism for such a bust move in large thanks to the fact that they found Brock Purdy with the last pick of the draft in 2022. If not for Purdy, the 49ers may not have made a run to the NFC Championship game last season and they may not be 2-0 right now because they’d be starting Sam Darnold.
It feels like the start of a similar story with regards to Puka Nacua.
Though he’s not Mr. Irrelevant like teammate Desjuan Johnson, Nacua was the 177th overall pick and not even one of L.A.’s first three picks of the fifth round! The Rams picked Nick Hampton, Warren McClendon, and Davis Allen before finally making sure to secure Puka.
Better than not getting him at all and definitely better than some of Les Snead’s draft picks in the years before 2023.
The Rams have no players on the roster left from the 2019 draft and their four day two picks—Taylor Rapp, Darrell Henderson, David Long, Bobby Evans—were all disappointing.
The Rams picked Cam Akers, Van Jefferson, Terrell Lewis, and Terrell Burgess on day two in 2020. Akers has most likely played his last game with the Rams and will either be traded or released. I know we wrote this story last year and he ended up coming back, but this feels like the final straw. Jefferson is no better than WR3 and when Kupp returns, Jefferson could have a hard time getting any snaps, if he’s still on the 53-man roster.
Lewis and Burgess are already gone. The team has also parted with their only day two pick in 2022, Logan Bruss, though he’s back on the practice squad.
The best news is that 2021’s second round pick Tutu Atwell has started to breakout too, he had seven catches for 77 yards and is near 200 yards through two games, and Ernest Jones has been a key in the middle of L.A.’s defense.
But no picks in recent years have been stars. Nobody since Cooper Kupp in 2017 really. Nobody until right now.
Without putting too high of expectations on Nacua, what we can say is that he’s been a special find through two weeks, not just for the Rams but relative to every other rookie in the NFL and every other rookie receiver through two games in history. How that looks in the future, we have to wait and find out.
How it feels right now? Probably pretty damn good if you’re Snead and Sean McVay.