Fifth-round picks aren’t supposed to do in the first two games of their careers what Puka Nacua has done to NFL defenses.
The Los Angeles Rams receiver has sprinted out of the gate, catching a league-high 25 passes for 266 yards in the first two weeks of the season. In Sunday’s 30-23 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the rookie went for 15 catches on 20 targets for 147 yards.
“He’s a stud,” Rams coach Sean McVay said, via Sarah Barshop of ESPN. “The game makes sense to him. Physically and mentally tough. Works really hard. He’s very inquisitive. He asks a lot of questions, and he’s got great guys to be able to lean on.
“His rapport with Matthew [Stafford], where they’re able to bounce things off of one another, I think that’s been a real positive, and Puka’s going to continue to improve.”
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Nacua spent the first two weeks of his rookie season breaking records.
His 15 catches Sunday were the most in a game by a rookie. His 25 total catches are the most by a rookie through two games in NFL history and the most by any rookie in any two-game span (Odell Beckham Jr. had 23 over two December games in 2014).
Nacua became the fifth player — and first rookie — in the Super Bowl era with 10-plus receptions and 100-plus receiving yards in each of his team’s first two games in a season — Cooper Kupp (2022), Miles Austin (2010), Isaac Bruce (1998) and Andre Rison (1994).
The rookie, however, wished he’d been setting records in a victory, not a close defeat.
“I’m not really aware of kind of what’s going on,” Nacua said. “But my success will come when the team wins, so I’m excited for us to be able to come back and capitalize when we are able to win. So it was sweet last week. I got things to improve on, so it’s cool and all, but the most important thing is getting that W.”
Stafford isn’t afraid to force-feed receivers he trusts to make plays — we’ve seen it throughout his career with the likes of Calvin Johnson, Kupp, etc. The surprising aspect is that the veteran QB has quickly gained a rapport with a fifth-round rookie. But as long as Nacua keeps paying off that trust, Stafford is sure to keep slinging it his way.
The question will be how the targets shake out when Kupp returns from injury. They’re likely to diminish somewhat, but Puka has proven he has lasting potential in McVay’s offense.
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