The Los Angeles Rams entered the 2023 NFL Draft with a clear need at wide receiver. Rams general manager Les Snead addressed the position by selecting former BYU wide receiver Puka Nacua with the No. 177 overall pick. Nacua has an opportunity to become the Rams’ No. 2 receiver before the season’s conclusion.
The Rams traded Allen Robinson to the Pittsburgh Steelers approximately one week before the draft. Robinson’s departure created a sizable hole opposite Cooper Kupp. Snead made a draft-high 14 total selections and Nacua was the lone receiver chosen by the Rams. It speaks volumes regarding their faith in his abilities.
The Rams had several needs to address but entered the draft without a first-round selection due to the Matthew Stafford trade. Snead used his first selection on TCU guard Steve Avila, who is plug-and-play on a reworked interior. The Rams also used five selections on pass rushers at varying positions as they searched for appropriate running mates for Aaron Donald.
Nacua will be entrusted to quickly carve out a role for himself. A fourth-year senior that transferred to BYU from Washington ahead of the 2021 season, Nacua thrived while playing alongside quarterback Jaren Hall. Nacua recorded a career-high 48 receptions for 625 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 2022.
Nacua is a 6-foot-1, 201-pound, physically rocked-up prospect. Nacua is a tone-setter on the perimeter that offers tremendous contested-catch ability. Nacua’s ability to box out defenders and high-point the football is evident while studying his tape. Nacua is also an impressive weapon with the ball in his hands as a playmaker with surprising run-after-catch production.
Nacua possesses a high ceiling so long as he continues to develop. A Provo, Utah native, Nacua is physical enough to win down the field with consistency. Nacua pairs a vertical receiving skill set with a versatile capacity to win down the field or to serve as a target via yard-after-catch opportunities. Nacua is also an outstanding blocker on the boundary. Sean McVay will appreciate his overall competitiveness.
Nacua is in direct competition with Ben Skowronek for snaps. Skowronek has always been a limited athlete that’s put forth lackluster receiver play. Skowronek recorded 39 receptions for 376 receiving yards on 697 offensive snaps last season. Rams quarterbacks saw an inefficient passer rating of 70.8 when targeting Skowronek, per Pro Football Focus.
It’ll be an even battle between Nacua and Skowronek throughout training camp and the preseason. Nacua possesses the momentum of being a fresh addition. It shouldn’t take long for Nacua to surpass Skowronek on the depth chart.
A healthy Van Jefferson should return to play the boundary. Kupp will continue dominating the slot. Three-receiver sets should feature Kupp, Jefferson, and Nacua before season’s end. Tutu Atwell is a designated deep-shot receiver.
A healthier Stafford should lead to more positive passing-game results, which should in turn allow Nacua to make an early impact. Recurring injuries limited Stafford to nine regular-season appearances in 2022. The Rams averaged a 27th-ranked 182.8 passing yards per game as a result. McVay responded to those struggles by firing first-year offensive coordinator Liam Coen. Mike LaFleur is McVay’s new offensive coordinator.
Improved health for Stafford and Kupp will allow the Rams to field a return-to-form offense in 2023. Rookies like Nacua will play a role. Analysis of the depth chart indicates Nacua possesses every opportunity necessary to develop into a top receiving option in Los Angeles.
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