Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua was once again a Rookie of the Week but an argument is being built for him to win Offensive Rookie of the Year. A look at the numbers indicates Nacua is on a historic pace.
Here are some of the rookies who stood out in this weekend's action:
Offensive Rookies of the Week
WR Puka Nacua, Rams
Puka Nacua leads all NFL players in targets (82) as a rookie. The next highest rookie is Ravens wide receiver Zay Flowers at No. 17 with 54 targets. It is not unheard of to get a larger target share late into a rookie season but how early it happened for Nacua is the story. Stat lines like eight receptions for 154 yards, which is what he had in Week 7 against the 4-2 Steelers, is enough to get any fan's attention but the reason for Los Angeles' faith in him is multi-layered. He is able to be on the field as much as he is because of his efforts as a blocker. He is not passive. No, the BYU product is willing to fight and struggle in the mud for his teammates.
As a receiver, Nacua is more than capable of getting off jams and fighting through routes. When the ball is in his hands, he turns upfield quickly and his movements are smooth. His body control is elite, which allows him to go high and low to make receptions; as he did Sunday.
When Garrett Wilson won Offensive Rookie of the Year a year ago, he had 52 targets through his first seven games. A year earlier, 2021 Rookie of the Year Ja'Marr Chase had just 51 receptions through seven games. Jaylen Waddle set the NFL record for receptions by a rookie in 2021 with 104 receptions. Through his first seven games, he had been targeted 57 times. He finished with 140 targets. If Nacua continues at this pace and stays healthy, he will finish with 199 targets. When Michael Thomas set the NFL record for receptions (149) in 2019, he was targeted 185 times. Nacua is on pace for not just a great season by a rookie, but rather one of the best seasons ever by a receiver.
QB Tyson Bagent, Bears
Tyson Bagent became the first former Division II player to start an NFL game since Jon Kitna in 2010. His last victory as a starting quarterback was against Indiana University-Pennsylvania but the moment never looked too big for the rookie in Sunday's convincing win over the Raiders. The son and grandson of an arm wrestling dynasty completed 72.4% of his passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. Bagent averaged just 2.0 air yards per target minus spikes, according to TruMedia, which was the lowest figure in the league this week by a considered margin. Chicago was smart to drill down on the game plan and simplify it for the rookie. It was on him to execute with confidence and that is exactly what he did in Chicago's second win of the season.
Minnesota needed someone to step up in the absence of Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison did just that on Monday night. The rookie from USC played an integral role in upsetting the 5-1 49ers. The No. 23 overall selection had his best performance to date with seven receptions for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Addison was actually in position for a third touchdown but Kirk Cousins missed him sprinting across the back of the end zone.
He fought through his routes and was physical making contested catches. When the ball was in his hands, he displayed his speed separating from the defense, particularly on his 60-yard touchdown.
Honorable mention: Colts WR Josh Down, Chiefs WR Rashee Rice, Patriots WR Demario Douglas, Giants WR Jalin Hyatt, Browns OT Dawand Jones, Patriots OG Sidy Sow, Bills TE Dalton Kincaid, Seahawks WRs Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Jake Bobo
Defensive Rookies of the Week
CB Devon Witherspoon, Seahawks
Devon Witherspoon was targeted three times Sunday against the Cardinals, according to TruMedia. None of those attempts were completed. Only four players were targeted three times or more without allowing a completion in Week 7. Witherspoon has great eyes in zone coverage and is more than willing to aid in run support.
CB Tre Hawkins III, Giants
Tre Hawkins III was targeted five times and gave up three completions for 34 yards, according to TruMedia. He was credited with a pass breakup but it honestly should have been an interception. The sixth-round pick has given up 173 yards all season.
CB Joey Porter Jr., Steelers
According to TruMedia, Joey Porter Jr. has allowed one reception for 12 yards on 10 targets this season. The lone reception did not come in Week 7 against a Rams offense featuring Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua and Matthew Stafford. In the second quarter, Stafford tried to hit Nacua on a slant but Porter was all over him to break it up. His lone blemish of the game was in the third quarter when he had running back Royce Freeman dead to rights up the middle. What should have been a 2-yard gain became 15.