Sean McVay reveals secrets behind drafting Puka Nacua and Rams catching fire

Rams receiver Puka Nacua and a bunch of other rookies made a team-sponsored presentation at Hollywood High in October, four games into his growing NFL career.

Nacua was off to a record-breaking start, coming off a hard pounding and game-winning touchdown catch in an overtime triumph at Indianapolis.


Underrated Athletes – Puka Nacua – FHC Sports Report


Nacua, on the other hand, took the time to greet every Hollywood player, coach, and school employee that approached him for a chat, autograph, or photo.

“I have you on my fantasy team!” one player exclaimed.

“I would love to be able to throw him passes,” said another.

Nacua, 22, saw his younger self in the wide-eyed teenage players.

“That was me,” he said, reflecting on the visit. “It feels like yesterday.”

Nacua, a fifth-round NFL draft pick who played for Washington and Brigham Young, has made significant strides in a short time by NFL standards.

He has already set Rams’ rookie records for both catches and receiving yards in a season, and he’s on the verge of potentially surpassing NFL rookie records too.

With 96 catches for 1,327 yards and five touchdowns, Nacua is on the cusp of breaking notable NFL rookie records. To surpass Miami’s Jaylen Waddle’s record of 104 receptions set in 2021-22, Nacua needs just nine more catches. Additionally, to exceed Bill Groman’s 1960 record of 1,473 receiving yards with the Houston Oilers, he requires 146 more yards.

The opportunity to break either one or both of these records might arrive this Sunday, as the Rams (8-7), who are on an upswing, are scheduled to face the New York Giants (5-10) at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

As of now, the Rams hold the No. 6 seed in the NFC standings. Should they secure victories against both the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers in the season’s final game, they will clinch a spot in the playoffs.

Alternatively, the Rams could secure a playoff berth this Sunday in several scenarios: by defeating the Giants and having the Pittsburgh Steelers triumph over the Seattle Seahawks; or if the Rams win against the Giants and the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers end their game in a tie.

While the primary focus remains on the Rams’ push for the playoffs, Nacua’s pursuit of records adds an interesting subplot to the narrative.

Nacua mentioned that he’s aware of the potential records mainly because many people have brought them to his attention.

“It is kind of crazy, but it wasn’t a goal of mine coming out,” he said. “I’m grateful for the guys around me who have been able to make my journey the way it is.”

Nacua owes his presence on the team to the efforts of coach Sean McVay, West Coast area scout Vito Gonella, and director of scouting strategy James Gladstone, who recognized his potential as a crucial addition to a team recovering from a challenging 2022 Super Bowl hangover.

While the Rams already boasted talents like Cooper Kupp, along with veterans Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell, McVay, general manager Les Snead, and other Rams personnel involved were collectively seeking a player who fit a specific profile.

“We were looking for a Robert Woods,” McVay said.

Woods, one of the first important free agents signed after McVay was hired in 2017, was a key component of four playoff appearances with the Rams, including two Super Bowls.

“One of my favorite players I’ve ever coached,” McVay said.

The Rams traded Woods to the Tennessee Titans before the 2022 season, although McVay missed Woods’ toughness, competitiveness, and philosophy.

“He brought an edge to our offense that was so necessary, especially coming from that receiver room,” McVay said. “And I think Puka does a lot of the same.”

So McVay was relieved when Snead ultimately selected Nacua, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 205 pounds, with the 177th overall choice.

“If we were to say that we knew he would be this good, then we would not have waited as long as we did,” McVay said, adding, “When it was getting down to it, I might’ve choked Les out if we had missed out on Puka when we were waiting so long to be able to take him.”

Nacua made a significant impact during the team’s offseason workouts. His opportunity to take first-team snaps arose when Cooper Kupp sustained a hamstring injury, limiting his participation in most of the training camp. When Kupp was subsequently placed on injured reserve, it provided Nacua with the chance to step into a starting role.

In his debut, Nacua immediately showcased his talents, recording an impressive performance of 10 receptions for 119 yards during the season-opening triumph against the Seattle Seahawks. Notably, his highlight-reel moment came from a spectacular 21-yard sideline catch, perfectly connected with a throw from quarterback Matthew Stafford, drawing attention and admiration from across the NFL.

“That one, kind of being the first one, kind of set the tone for the rest of the season,” Nacua said.

That was only one of many highlight-reel plays by Nacua.

Stafford has said that for a rookie, Nacua is “about as comfortable as I’ve ever seen.”

Nacua caught nine catches for 164 yards and a score last week against the New Orleans Saints. He also gained 16 yards on the ground and recovered an onside kick, which secured the victory. This was Nacua’s sixth game this season with more than 100 yards receiving.

Kupp said “the biggest thing I’ve noticed” about Nacua is the first-year player’s consistency on and off the field, regardless of whether he’s experienced success or struggles.

“He’s the same dude no matter what,” Kupp said. “And I think that’s been a huge asset for him going through a rookie year that is very up and down — and obviously, way more ups than there were downs.”

Nacua has learned from, but remains awed by, veteran teammates. It remains “mind-blowing,” he said, to say good morning to Stafford and Kupp in the quarterback room.

“That’s always something sweet,” he said.

Nacua has formed a strong bond with fellow rookie offensive lineman Steve Avila, who has been a consistent starter in every game. The two players share a pre-drive handshake, and Nacua even tosses the ball to Avila after scoring touchdowns.

“Having a rookie connection in the huddle with Steve is special,” said Nacua. “It’s great to have someone fresh, new, and a young guy like me.”

Similar to how Cooper Kupp handled his rise to NFL stardom, Avila mentioned that Nacua has managed instant fame admirably.

“The spotlight can change who you are, but I’m glad to say I don’t think he’s changed at all,” Avila remarked. “He’s become a prominent figure in the NFL, which is significant for a rookie.”

Nacua’s outstanding performance has placed him in the conversation for the NFL Rookie of the Year alongside Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud. However, accolades and records aren’t his primary focus. Nacua’s sole emphasis is on aiding the Rams in securing a playoff spot.

“It’s been an enjoyable season,” he reflected, “and it’s not finished yet.”

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