When longtime Los Angeles Rams receivers coach, Eric Yarber, first encountered Puka Nacua on the practice field at the team’s Thousand Oaks, California facility after this year’s draft, he was taken aback. Standing tall at 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 212 pounds, the BYU standout, selected by the Rams as the final pick in the fifth round, exuded a physical presence that exceeded Yarber’s expectations, even after reviewing game footage.
Yarber, in an interview with FOX Sports, emphasized Nacua’s imposing physique, highlighting his exceptional physicality and ability to resist rerouting by defenders. He described Nacua as a force to be reckoned with, capable of unbalancing opponents and displacing them with his robust style, effectively navigating through defensive shoulders and edges.
An Early-Season Revelation
Puka Nacua’s entry into the NFL has been nothing short of astonishing. He swiftly made a name for himself by setting an NFL record with 25 receptions in his first two career games. Moreover, Nacua became the first rookie to achieve double-digit catches and amass over 100 receiving yards in each of his initial two NFL appearances.
With All-Pro receiver Cooper Kupp sidelined due to a hamstring injury, Nacua has seamlessly assumed the role of the Rams’ primary offensive weapon. As of his entry into the nationally televised game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Nacua has accumulated an impressive 25 catches for 266 receiving yards, including 117 yards gained after the catch. Astonishingly, he has been the target of 43.2% of the Rams’ passing plays, a league-leading statistic as of Week 3, demonstrating his growing importance to the team.
Beyond His Years
Eric Yarber emphasized that what truly sets Nacua apart is his composure on the field. Despite being a rookie, he displayed a maturity and level of poise that belied his age. Coach Sean McVay’s foresight in recognizing Nacua’s potential for their offensive scheme has paid dividends, with Nacua effectively fulfilling the vision McVay had in mind.
The Work Ethic
Behind the scenes, Nacua’s commitment to learning the Rams’ offensive playbook and his on-field collaboration with quarterback Matthew Stafford have accelerated his development as a 22-year-old rookie. Yarber praised Nacua’s ability to translate this knowledge onto the field—a skill that often eludes many rookies. This trust-building process with Stafford has been particularly noteworthy, with Nacua’s reliable hands ensuring the ball rarely hits the ground.
Yarber reminded us that opportunities multiply when seized, and Nacua has certainly seized his. The coach’s prior experience coaching a former player, Junior Adams, who also mentored Nacua during his college years at Washington, provided valuable insights into Nacua’s potential. Adams’ favorable comparison of Nacua to other standout receivers he has coached, including Kupp, further solidified the Rams’ confidence in their fifth-round pick.
A Comparison Game
While Nacua has drawn comparisons to Kupp due to his style as a volume possession receiver, Yarber offered additional parallels. He likened Nacua’s physicality, tenacity, and ability to make contested catches to former NFL receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, albeit noting that Nacua is slightly faster. Furthermore, Nacua was favorably compared to former Rams receiver Robert Woods, both of whom occupied the “Z” receiver position in McVay’s offensive scheme. Notably, Nacua honors Woods by wearing his No. 17 jersey.
Versatility in Action
Yarber hailed Nacua and Woods as versatile “throwback” players, capable of contributing across the board. They excel in running after the catch, aiding in the running game, and making an impact at various levels of the field, from screens to quick plays and intermediate routes. When called upon to go deep, both possess the speed required to reach the third level of the defense.
Adding a New Dimension
The Rams, who have often struggled against the physicality, athleticism, and sheer strength of San Francisco 49ers star Deebo Samuel, have found a valuable addition in Nacua. McVay’s decision to bring in Nacua enhances the team’s physical attributes on offense, allowing them to better contend with opposing defenses.
The Mentorship that Makes a Difference
One cannot understate the influence of Cooper Kupp in Nacua’s journey. Since his arrival, Kupp has taken Nacua under his wing, sharing invaluable knowledge and insights. Nacua’s ability to absorb this wisdom is a testament to Kupp’s exceptional teamwork and leadership skills, enhancing the camaraderie within the team.
A Remarkable Beginning
In just a mere two weeks, Puka Nacua has already displayed the poise, skills, and mindset of a seasoned NFL veteran. His rapid ascent on the field has turned heads not only among fans but also within the coaching staff. Nacua has quickly become an integral part of the Rams’ offensive strategy, showcasing his versatility and dependability in various game situations.
Puka Nacua’s journey from a relatively unknown fifth-round pick to a crucial component of the Los Angeles Rams has been nothing short of remarkable. His exceptional physicality, combined with his mental acumen and work ethic, has transformed him into a rising star in the NFL. As the season unfolds, all eyes will undoubtedly be on this young sensation, eager to witness the next chapter in his promising career.