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The Rookie Sleeper You Didn’t Know You Needed: Puka Nacua

Criminally overlooked at this stage of the game Rams rookie WR Puka Nacua has a tremendous opportunity ahead of him in 2023. @ReflipeWThenuz details the player and his potential with the Rams.

Every so often, a rookie who is ignored early in the process comes along before bursting onto the scene due to his early role. You need to look no further than last season with Kansas City RB Isiah Pacheco. Jakobi Myers and Hunter Renfrow are WRs who emerged from the shadows to lead their squads in multiple receiving categories. I believe that LA Rams WR Puka Nacua is set up for that type of assent in 2023. At his current ADP of essentially free, how can you go wrong? Without further ado, let us examine this interesting playmaker.

Background

Nacua came to the Rams out of BYU. The former Orem High School star was the no.1 player in the state of Utah and the eighth-nationally ranked WR, according to 247sports.com. He left his High School as the greatest receiver the state had ever seen, owning records for catches, yards, and TDs. His 260/5,226/58 stat line will be difficult for a future player to surpass. Nacua naturally drew several offers from schools predominantly in the Mountain West and Pac-12. He eventually settled on Washington, where he spent the first two years of his college career. After repeated disappointments, he entered the transfer portal and came back home to BYU. 

BYU Cougar

While playing for BYU, Nacua enjoyed some extreme highs and lows. The gifted playmaker would routinely dazzle when on the field. The trouble was that he dealt with multiple injuries during his two years at Provo. When he was on the field, his game was somewhat reminiscent of Deebo Samuel. Nacua made plays out of the backfield and on the perimeter. 

During his junior season, when he played the most games of his career, 12, he had a combined 953 yards and six TDs. Those numbers might not sound all that impressive at first. But when you dig in and find out that Nacua averaged over 18.5 yards per catch and over ten yards per carry, you begin to see the types of plays he was making for the Cougars. You can find his college stats below. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
Receiving & Rushing Table
ReceivingRushingScrimmage
YearSchoolConfClassPosGRecYdsAvgTDAttYdsAvgTDPlaysYdsAvgTD
*2019WashingtonPac-12FRWR3716824.02000716824.02
2020WashingtonPac-12SOWR3915116.81000915116.81
*2021Brigham YoungIndWR124380518.761414810.605795316.76
*2022Brigham YoungIndSRWR94862513.05252098.457383411.410
CareerOverall107174916.314393579.25146210614.419
Washington1631919.930001631919.93
Brigham Young91143015.711393579.25130178713.716
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 6/10/2023.

Despite his issues staying on the field, his play garnered him major recognition. He was All-independent First Team WR in 2021 and 2022, as well as Pro Football Network All-Independent WR of the Year in 2021. Simply put, whenever Nacua was in the game, he contributed in multiple facets, from rushing to reiving and returning. His BYU highlights below show why he earned the above honors. 

Before entering the NFL draft process, Nacua took his talents to Mobile and participated in the Senior Bowl. While practicing and playing, he made some awfully positive impressions on the coaches and scouts in attendance. His natural hands-catching tendencies and his ability to gain separation despite not being as physically gifted as others were on full display time and again as he found himself open, just like the route below. 

Combine

On the heels of his college career, Nacua was invited to the NFL combine in Indianapolis. He did not run at the combine but participated in the individual drills. He was quite successful in those, as you would imagine for a player of his technical skills. Some analysts thought he had the best gauntlet drill of the entire class. The former Mr. High School Football from Utah saved his athletic measurements for the BYU Pro Day. at the event, he tested ok from an athletic spectrum but not great. This was expected as he often wins with technique and heart as opposed to raw athletic ability. You can see his numbers below, courtesy of nfldraftbuzz.com.

NFL Draft

With a player of Nacua’s skill set, his NFL future would hand on which team and coaching staff took a chance on him. As things turned out, he landed in the absolute perfect spot when he was selected in the fifth round by Sean McVay and the LA Rams. He will remain in his comfort zone, staying on the West Coast. Nacua also finds himself at the disposal of one of the most creative offensive minds in the entire league with McVay. To that end, let us now turn our attention to the Rams.

Rams Situation

The 2023 LA Rams are shaping up as a team undergoing a major transitional period. Year after year, the franchise traded away draft assets and cap space in the chase to bring home another title. Fortunately for them, they were able to accomplish their goal in 2021. Unfortunately, now is the time when they are paying the piper for the achieved goal. The team is light on both draft picks and cap space. 

Heading into 2023, the Rams have jettisoned last season’s failed acquisition of Allen Robinson to the Steelers. They have also made little to no effort in bringing in additional free agents to help solidify a paper-thin WR room. Enter Nacua; the former BYU star joins a WR corps with literally only a single player who has ever had a 1,000-yard campaign. Behind All-Pro Cooper Kupp, there is an uninspiring train of players ranging from Van Jefferson to Ben Skowronek and Tutu Atwell. Simply put, the opportunity to start is as good as you will find in the league for an incoming rookie.

Early Impressions

Nacua has seemingly taken the opportunity by the horns and has begun stacking quality practices. Considering the fact that he is just a fifth-round pick, it is ultra-encouraging to hear the amount of praise being heaped on the rookie. Everyone from Sean McVay to Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson has singled out Nacua for his early returns at OTA’s. 

Now I can see the seasoned dynasty players among our readers rolling their eyes at the thought of meaningless off-season hype for late-round rookies. I get that, I truly do. However, it is not very often that a late-round, early-hyped rookie, finds himself on such a wide-open depth chart. The Rams have never successfully found a replacement for former starter Robert Woods. That is a player who Nacua comps to very well in multiple areas. If the reports continue to come in on the positive side, there is a real chance Puka could be in for a considerable rookie season role on the team. 

The Cost

The absolute best part about Nacua is his price. At this point in the game, he is damn near free from a dynasty perspective. I have been a part of several drafts myself where he went undrafted in a five-round rookie draft. In my humble opinion, it is an absolute no-brainer to scoop up a player with this type of opportunity and early hype on the back end of your rookie drafts. 

When searching the Dynasty Nerds Trade Browser, the news is even better. You can find actual trades where this interesting sleeper WR is going for a future third-round pick on the high end and as little as a couple of fifth round selections on the low side. That is absolute stealing for a player with his opportunity and early traction. 

Final Thoughts

Dynasty Fantasy football is such a great game. One of the best feelings in a dynasty is when you find that late-round gem that breaks through and adds a true boost to your lineup and squad as a whole. For my money, Nacua is one of the best late-round targets in this draft class. Few, if any, players offer his potential starting role at his scant price point.

As of right now, he is making an excellent impression on everyone within the Rams organization. From the Head Coach on down, everyone who has encountered him has given a glowing review. Behind Kupp and Van Jefferson, there are zero established players in the WR room for the Rams. Nacua will have the opportunity to learn from a true technician like Kupp who attempting to secure a wide-open spot in the starting lineup. His game fits perfectly in the slot and on the perimeter. Do yourself a favor and scoop up Nacua while he is still dirt cheap. In all likelihood, his value will only be going up from here.

Thank you for reading this article! Please be sure to join the #Nerdherd, so you don’t miss out on any of the amazing things we have to offer @Dynastynerds.com. Use my promo code DynastyHolliday for a 15% off discount. You will get rankings, extra podcasts, and access to our rookie film room. For just a couple of bucks more, you can get access to our revolutionary DynastyGM tool. So much for so little; why miss out on all the fun? Also, you absolutely must check out our new mock draft tool. Find it in your Apple & Android app stores. Follow me @ReflipeWThenuz for more dynasty content and other musings.

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