He's found himself in one of the NFL's most envious roles -- the featured inside and outside receiver in Sean McVay's offense.
He's former BYU star Puka Nacua, new record-holder of the most catches (25) to begin an NFL career through two games.
He was my No. 199 overall prospect -- Nucua was picked at No. 177 overall -- and like most of us, probably including the Rams, I did not envision such a blisteringly hot start to his professional career. Here's a little snippet of my pre-draft scouting report on Nacua.
Good-sized, sneaky YAC wideout with plus ball-tracking capabilities. Doesn't have the juice or the burst out of his breaks to be a major separator at the next level but has a natural feel for the utilization of his body as a shield with a defender near him... Natural runner with great vision and deceptive contact balance... Runs hard and will mostly maximize what's blocked for him. Used on screens/jet sweeps often in his offense, which is where most of his production came from. Strong, natural hands. Some release ability at the line but not a high-caliber athlete or super powerful through contact. Sneaky after the catch weapon with the ball-tracking skills teams want out of perimeter receivers.
Clearly, Nacua's average pro day workout gave me pause about him even going on the second day of the draft. What's ironic about that now -- from a size and measured athleticism perspective, he's eerily similar to Kupp.
|Height/Weight||40-Yard Dash||Vertical||Broad||Three Cone|
6-2 / 204
6-1 5/8" / 210
Kupp's quicker. Beyond that, the two wideouts are very comparable athletically. They also have the exact same arm length (31 1/2") and hand size (9 1/2").
Let's jump into the film room to evaluate the intricacies of Nacua's game that've made him an instant favorite target for Stafford and to garner first-read opportunities in McVay's call sheet.
This is genius-level play-designing from McVay. Watch how the vertical route from the tight end forced Fred Warner into the path of the corner covering Nucua on the shallow cross. Of course, there's no way an offensive coach can perfectly time and aim the defenders in real time, but Warner is much more challenging to avoid as a moving target than if he were stationary.
Easy pitch and catch from Stafford to Nacua that went for 20.
Check out here how Kyren Williams running into the flat created a massive throwing lane for Matthew Stafford -- who is all the way back, by the way -- to beam an anticipatory laser to Nucua on a deep comeback against zone coverage.
The play was capped by Nucua making an arms-extended, diving grab against the momentum of his hitch. Awesome concentration and soft hands were needed to secure the football for 13 yards.
Nacua's collegiate drop rate was 6.4%, reasonably low, not spectacular. He was about as reliable as they come in tight quarters, in those famed contested-catch scenarios.
Nacua converted 21 of his last 34 of those opportunities. That nearly 62% win-rate is phenomenal and suggests he plays with a calm concentration when a highlight-reel grab is needed, like it was to close out the game against the Seahawks in Week 1.
Quite the exclamation point at the end of that impressive road victory to begin the season inside the division.
Here's another comeback -- with Stafford's arm, a well-timed comeback is difficult to defend -- when Nacua demonstrated the power component to his YAC capabilities en route to a 14-yard chunk.
This, from Week 1 in Seattle, provided a glimpse of that too, by the way.
At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Nacua is far from a light, easy-to-tackle player with the ball in his hands. He's made that abundantly clear through two games.
This is a concept straight from the Kupp handbook. Linebacker in coverage at the snap, safety directly over the top hinted at a blitz from the second-level defender. It comes, and Nacua runs a slant into the vacancy.
Boom -- 12 more yards with an authoritative finish from the rookie. Another body-contorting catch too.
Quarterbacks aren't the only ones who need to process pictures in their mind rapidly at the NFL level. Receivers do too. Nacua did that here on a fourth-quarter 3rd-and-long as he ran another drag route underneath. Instantly realizing there was no man-coverage element to the play, he sat down between the linebackers instead of running directly into a monstrous hit from Dre Greenlaw.
Stafford delivered the football over the middle and Nacua quickly turned upfield for nine yards.
This last play could be the most important of them all, as it illustrates that Nacua is a "pace" player. Meaning, he's able to lull defenders to sleep, or play at his pace in the route, which allows him to level the athleticism playing field and throttle up and down to generate space from cornerbacks and safeties.
Nacua, aligned at the bottom of the screen here, is slow off the line. No questioning that. Notice how he even throttled down mid-way through the route before hitting the accelerators as he was approaching the top of his route stem, before snapping if off to the middle of the field.
That's Kupp-esque. As what's becoming the norm, Nacua finished the catch with authority through two tacklers to advance the football a few extra yards after contact.
I'm not here to suggest the Rams have uncovered the next Kupp. I am here to suggest Stafford has trust in Nacua well beyond their time together in this offense, and the rookie plays with a savvy, well-rounded skill set. McVay clearly has faith in Nacua shouldering No. 1 receiver looks as Kupp is sidelined with injury. And there is nothing that suggests the Stafford-Nacua connection will be slowing down anytime soon.