The Los Angeles Rams arguably have two of the best rookies on offense and defense in the NFL. Wide receiver Puka Nacua and defensive lineman Kobie Turner have each been impressive at their respective positions. With one week to go in the NFL season, the big question that remains is whether or not both Nacua and Turner and win Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Mike Sando from The Athletic wrote on Thursday where he was leaning. Sando said he was considering both Nacua and Turner for the rookie awards.
Puka Nacua’s Case For Offensive Rookie of the Year
Nacua’s case for Offensive Rookie of the Year shouldn’t be complicated, but there is something that complicates it. That’s the fact that these awards tend to go to quarterbacks and Houston Texans quarterback CJ Stroud is having a pretty good year.
Here’s what Sando had to say about Nacua’s case,
“This felt like Stroud’s award to lose at one point, and oddsmakers still consider him a heavy favorite. I’m considering Rams receiver Puka Nacua, who ranks fifth in receiving yardage, after Stroud missed two games to injury. But if Stroud finishes strong against the Colts in Week 18, he’ll be hard to push down the ballot. Nacua has 14 receptions for 282 yards over the past two games, helping the Rams clinch a playoff berth...His 101 receptions for 1,445 yards and five touchdowns have added 120.6 EPA, third behind Hill and CeeDee Lamb. That is elite production for anyone, let alone for a rookie fifth-round pick from BYU.”
There was a similar situation in 2020 when Justin Herbert beat out Justin Jefferson. That season, Jefferson had 88 receptions for 1,400 yards and seven receiving touchdowns. With that said, Herbert broke the rookie passing touchdowns record and was 38 yards away from Andrew Luck’s rookie passing yards record. Had Herbert played 16 games, he likely surpasses that as well.
Herbert over Jefferson sets some precedent. However, Nacua will have the opportunity in Week 18 to break not only the rookie receiving yards record that has stood since 1960, but also the rookie receptions record. How do you not give Nacua the award if that happens? Unlike MVP, this isn't “most valuable offensive rookie.” The award should go to the best rookie and in the case that Nacua breaks not just one, but two records, the answer seems pretty straightforward.
Nacua is averaging 2.59 yards per route run this season. That’s the fourth-most since PFF started tracking that data behind just Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014, AJ Brown in 2019, and Jefferson in 2020.
Again, Stroud is having a great rookie season, but it’s pretty standard with good rookie quarterback seasons in recent memory. Nacua is doing things that we haven’t seen in 63 years.
Kobie Turner’s Case for Defensive Rookie of the Year
Despite leading rookies in sacks this season, earlier this week, the third-round pick out of Wake Forest wasn’t even available to bet on in the sports books for Defensive Rookie of the Year. That has since changes as Turner now has the third-best odds. Said Sando about Turner’s case,
“Rams defensive tackle Kobie Turner tops my list with nine sacks and 45 pressures on 625 snaps for a defense that is outperforming preseason expectations by a wide margin. Turner has more snaps, sacks and splash plays (sacks, tackles for loss, passes defensed/batted, stops on third/fourth downs, etc.) than the Eagles’ Jalen Carter or the Texans’ Will Anderson. Carter’s candidacy suffers from the Eagles’ defensive struggles. Anderson is a close second to Turner in my mind. He has a chance to finish strong in a big game against the Colts in Week 18.”
Sando absolutely nails it. Carter leads the odds for Defensive Rookie of the Year, but this should be a two player race between Anderson and Turner. With that said, Turner has been the better overall player. Turner ranks fourth on the season in pressures, however, he didn’t get his first start until Week 6. Since then, the Rams rookie is second in pressures behind only Anderson. It’s worth noting that Turner plays on the interior while Anderson plays on the edge. Turner is also double-teamed at a rate of 71 percent. Jalen Carter’s double-team rate is just 59 percent. As a matter of fact, Turner has higher double-team rate than Aaron Donald (63 percent). Playing on the edge, Anderson’s double-team rate is 23 percent.
While Turner leads rookies in sacks and is up near the top in pressures, it’s what he’s doing in the run game that really separates him. Turner has 24 run stops this season which leads Anderson (21) and Carter (5). The next closest rookie defensive lineman to Turner is Calijah Kancey who has 16 run stops. Turner’s run-stop percentage of 12.2 percent leads all rookies and is fifth in the entire NFL. Again, the pass rush number are flashy, but what he’s doing in the run game is arguably just as, if not more, impressive.
Let's call this the Jer'Zhan Newton index -- The worst 10 teams in interior DL pass rush win rate.— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) January 4, 2024
Vikings - 8.6% (my god)
Jags - 11.1%
Pats - 13.4%
Cards - 13.6%
Saints - 14.4%
Chargers - 14.5%
Lions - 15.1%
Titans - 15.3%
Raiders - 15.4%
Falcons - 15.5%
Rams are 1st btw (32%)
Turner’s impact on the Rams defense can’t be understated. He’s arguably the best defensive lineman that Aaron Donald has played next to. Certainly, he’s the most productive. When Turner is on the field this season, offenses have a success-rate of 41.4 percent. That leads Anderson (42.2 percent) and Carter (43.9 percent).
Can Rams Sweep the Rookie Awards?
Puka Nacua will have a good shot at winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, especially if he breaks the rookie yards record. While Turner’s stock has been rising and more people are talking about him, Anderson will likely be the winner. If the Rams do sweep the awards, it will be the second year in a row that a team has won both. Last season, both Garrett Wilson and Sauce Gardner won the rookie awards with the New York Jets.
Even if the Rams don’t win either award, it doesn’t mean they still didn't get two absolutely studs in the draft. It’s simply vindication for making the right pick and it’s also nice to reward good individual performances. We’ll see where voters land when the awards are announced before the Super Bowl.