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Puka Nacua is making it look easy. Through four games, the rookie fifth-round pick has taken the NFL by storm while putting his name in the record book in the process.

No receiver in league history has caught more passes in his first four games than Nacua, whose 39th and most recent catch resulted in his first NFL touchdown while lifting the Rams to an overtime win over the Colts.

Nacua currently leads the NFL in receptions, and his 501 receiving yards are second to only the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson’s 543. Nacua is on pace to have over 2,100 receiving yards this season, which would smash Hall of Fame wideout Calvin Johnson’s single-season mark of 1,964 yards in 2012.

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Puka Nacua
LAR • WR • #17
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Why has Nacua been able to have so much success so early? Here are five reasons why the 22-year-old has and should continue to excel in Los Angeles.

Early success
It’s safe to say that Nacua’s background is paying dividends now.

While he’s currently getting national recognition, Nacua was already somewhat of a household name in Utah after he set state prep records with 260 receptions, 5,226 yards and 58 touchdowns. During his senior season, Nacua set single-season records in all three major receiving categories en route to being named “Mr. Football 2018” by the Deseret News.

Nacua’s football roots began long before his high school success. While other kids were watching cartoons, Nacua was more interested in watching film with his father.

“He’s like a player coach,” Nacua’s high school coach Jeremy Hill said in a 2018 interview. “The stuff he sees, the covers and matchups, he’s always coming off the field saying, ‘This is what I see.’ There are actually times when he’s coming up with the fourth-down play or giving us his input.”

Hidden gem
Despite having a sparking prep career, Nacua’s college career mimicked many high school stars who for whatever reason don’t produce up to their potential in college. For Nacua, the reason for his solid yet unspectacular college stats was due to being a victim of circumstance. After breaking his foot during his freshman season at Washington, Nacua and his teammates played in just three games during the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season.

Nacua transferred to BYU the following season and, despite being new to the program, caught 43 passes for 805 yards and six touchdowns. He battled through several injuries in 2022 but still finished as the team’s leader in receptions (48), yards (625) and touchdowns (five).

His lack of gaudy numbers in college ultimately led to Nacua slipping to the fifth round before the Rams scooped him up with the 177th overall pick.

Physical gifts
Like most elite players, Nacua is blessed with physical gifts. While he’s not necessarily tall, the 6-1, 205-pound Nacua possesses the perfect blend of height and strength. He’s tough to bring down in the open field and often uses his strength to pick up several extra yards after first contact.

Nacua also has excellent hands, which has allowed him to make tough catches in traffic as well as on the sidelines. And while he isn’t known for his speed, Nacua plays faster than his pro day 40 time of 4.57 seconds. According to Next Gen Stats, Nacua hit 21.05 mph on one of his routes this season, which is one of the six fastest speeds of any player on a route this season (h/t USA Today).

Nacua’s nine catches this past Sunday came in a variety of ways: posts, slants, deep crosses, a deep out and a bubble screen. He did most of his damage on deep crosses that included his game-winning, 23-yard touchdown catch in overtime.

His impressive route tree is being maximized by Rams coach Sean McVay, who in many ways is using Nacua the way he’s used Cooper Kupp in previous years. While he may have been a victim of circumstance in college, Nacua is in the perfect situation in Los Angeles.

Nacua’s situation is similar to what Terrell Davis experienced 28 years earlier. After being under utilized at Georgia, Davis (a sixth-round pick), flourished in Mike Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme in Denver. Davis ultimately won two Super Bowls, league and Super Bowl MVPs and is in the Hall of Fame.

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