Los Angeles Rams rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua exploded on Sunday. The No. 177 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft recorded a breakout performance consisting of 10 receptions for 119 yards in the Rams’ shocking 30-13 win over their NFC West rival Seattle Seahawks.
Nacua saw a team-high 15 targets. The former BYU standout converted them into 10 catches that averaged a chain-moving 11.9 yards per reception. Nacua’s 15 targets were the highest amount for a rookie wide receiver in Week 1 since 1992, which is when targets started being officially tracked, per Fantasy Points. He became the first rookie wide receiver to surpass 100 receiving yards in his debut since Ja’Marr Chase (2021).
Nacua’s 10 receptions ranked second in the league behind Tyreek Hill (11), who went nuclear versus the Los Angeles Chargers. Hill and Nacua tied for a league-leading 15 targets. Nacua’s 119 receiving yards are tied for fourth (with his teammate Tutu Atwell). His breakout feels very real.
Nacua saw a 39.5% target share as starting quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 24-of-38 passing attempts for 334 yards. Nacua saw nearly double as many targets as Atwell (8). The numbers are astounding, but there’s reason to believe Nacua can keep this production going.
Nacua’s highlight moment occurred midway through the fourth quarter. Facing a crucial 3rd-and-8, Stafford found Nacua near the right sideline for a 21-yard gain that milked precious minutes and led to a game-clinching field goal. Nacua broke toward the sideline after releasing inside on a corner route to make a leaping toe-tapping grab in traffic.
PUKA ARE YOU KIDDING!
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 10, 2023
Nacua established himself as the Rams’ WR1 on Sunday with Cooper Kupp on IR due to a hamstring injury. Kupp will miss a minimum of three more contests, and there’s concern that Kupp could spend an even lengthier stint on the sidelines. Kupp visited with a noted body specialist to further understand his hamstring issue, according to multiple reports. It sounds like a complicated issue that threatens to derail Kupp’s 2023 season.
Veteran wideout Van Jefferson was expected to step into Kupp’s shoes. Jefferson was targeted just five times, totaling four receptions for 24 yards. Nacua is comfortably ahead of Jefferson on Stafford’s pecking order as things stand.
Rams head coach Sean McVay utilized Nacua all over his offensive formation. Of his 63 snaps, which accounted for 78% of the Rams’ total offensive plays, Nacua played 43 snaps on the boundary and 20 in the slot, according to Pro Football Focus. McVay moved his rookie pass-catcher around while searching for advantageous matchups. They clearly found them.
Nacua will encounter a stiff test in Week 2. The Rams will square off with a haunting San Francisco 49ers defense that intercepted Kenny Pickett twice in a 30-7 blowout victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Last year’s top-ranked scoring defense (16.3/contest) held the Steelers to one touchdown and under 200 net passing yards.
The NFC West showdown qualifies as an excellent measuring stick to determine how much of Nacua’s Week 1 performance was legitimate. Nacua should draw cornerback Charvarius Ward in coverage. If Nacua manages to string together another impressive showing, no doubt will remain.
Even the wildest of imaginations couldn’t have envisioned a better pro debut for Nacua. The Provo, Utah native shattered several records throughout a historic performance. Nacua should continue developing into a top receiving option in Los Angeles.
- Sep 29, 2023
- Sep 29, 2023