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NFC West Stock Watch: Inside Rams WR Puka Nacua’s Week 1 breakout

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Since arriving at the team’s facility after the Los Angeles Rams selected him in the fifth round of this year’s draft, wide receiver Puka Nacua has quickly adapted to life in the NFL and the offense of head coach Sean McVay’s precise passing skills.

With star receiver Cooper Kupp on injured reserve for the first four weeks of the regular season due to a lingering hamstring injury, Nacua helped fill the void. From the team’s perspective, few people were surprised by his performance on the job in the offseason and in training camp.

However, the manner in which the BYU product announced his arrival in the NFL was stunning. Against one of the league’s best secondaries, Nacua finished with 10 catches for 119 yards on 15 targets in a surprising road win over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1.

Nacua quickly picked up McVay’s complex offense and serves as the team’s go-to receiver with Kupp out.

“Puka Nacua came in and he’s as mature a rookie as I’ve ever known,” McVay said. “And he’s a physical player, tough and strong. He has a very good personality.”

Through hard work and plenty of reps, Nacua earned the trust of quarterback Matthew Stafford. In the game against Seattle, more than 40% of Stafford’s passes went in the direction of Nacua.

“It didn’t really start in training camp. It started the second he got drafted here and was in OTAs,” Stafford told reporters when asked about his ties to Nacua . “I spent a lot of time in OTAs working with him, I spent time between OTAs and training camp throwing pitches to him. I spent a lot of time during training camp , just repetitions. And his understanding of the game really comes naturally to him.”

Much like Kupp, Nacua is a mid-round pick from a less hyped West Coast Division I school that wasn’t playing regularly against elite-level competition. The 6-foot-2, 201-pound Nacua ran a 4.55 40 at BYU’s pro day, so there were questions about whether he had enough speed to consistently get open at the NFL level.

However, like Kupp, Nacua has an innate ability to separate at the top of the route and is physical at the catch point, allowing him to win contested catches. And he can also play after the catch. Nacua also proved to be an effective blocker in the running game against Seattle’s defensive backs.

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Nacua said Kupp has been there to help her throughout the process.

“Coop has been like a second coach,” Nacua said. “It’s always nice to have him out in the field. … When we come back to check the iPads, he’s the first one to say either good job or here’s what I’m seeing and what I’m looking at. “Coop is the man. I love this guy. I feel lucky to be in this situation. “

Nacua’s big day leads this week’s NFC West Stock Watch.

Rising

Puka Nacua, Rams

The Rams did a good job attacking the middle of the field against the Seattle defense. According to Next Gen Stats, Nacua was targeted 15 times in his NFL debut, the most by a rookie in Week 1 in the last eight seasons (44.1% target rate). He did most of his production in the short zone (0-9 air yards), where he caught 6 of 9 targets for 64 yards.

Nacua has been one of the most sought-after players in fantasy football this week due to his success in Week 1. He faces a tougher test Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, who bolster one of the league’s best defensive fronts and a talented second-tier defense led by All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner.

Jake Moody, 49ers

Michigan’s third-round kicker struggled in the preseason, missing two field goals and an extra point. Along with that, Moody suffered a strained quad, sparking concerns about his ability to perform in week one for a team built to win the Super Bowl.

Moody put those questions aside by going 3-for-3 on field goals, a 41-yarder, and scoring all of his extra points in San Francisco’s blowout of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

49ers or Cowboys: Who made a bigger statement?

49ers or Cowboys: Who made a bigger statement?

Brandon Aiyuk, 49ers

Aiyuk continues to show that he has become the number one receiver in San Francisco’s offense, catching all eight targets that Brock Purdy threw for 129 yards and two scores. For his efforts, Aiyuk earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Aiyuk was particularly successful against veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson, who predicted he would get an interception against Purdy. According to Next Gen Stats, Aiyuk caught all three receptions for 43 yards and two touchdowns with Peterson on him.

Fall

Geno Smith, sea ​​hawks

Voted Comeback Player of the Year last season, Smith earned a big payday for turning his career around. But his struggles in his team’s disappointing loss to the Rams continued a troubling trend from the second half of last season. Smith finished 16 of 26 for 112 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions against Los Angeles. He was sacked twice and posted an 84.1 passer rating. In the second half, Smith had just nine passing yards.

Since Week 10 of last season, Smith has completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,448 yards, with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions for a passer rating of 94.3. The Seahawks are 3-7 in these contests.

Dre’Mont Jones, sea ​​hawks

He signed a three-year, $51.3 million contract in free agency this offseason to help spark Seattle’s pass rush. But Jones finished with just three combined tackles and no sacks or quarterback hits in his team’s loss to the Rams. The Seahawks did not sack Stafford and finished with just two quarterback hits on 38 pass attempts.

Making Seahawks fans even more frustrated, the player Seattle gave up in the first round of this year’s draft, DT Jalen Carter, recorded six pressures and a sack on 32 pass rushes in his NFL debut for the Eagles. Philadelphia. According to Next Gen Stats, that’s tied for the most pressure by any rookie defensive tackle in a game over the past five seasons.

Seattle’s first-round pick, cornerback Devon Witherspoon, did not play in Week 1 due to a lingering hamstring issue he has been dealing with for the past month.

David Helman describes Rams’ stunning win over Seahawks

David Helman describes Rams' stunning win over Seahawks

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Joshua Dobbs, Cardinals

It’s probably unfair to expect much from Dobbs in Week 1 since he joined the team just a few weeks ago. But in his first start for Arizona, he finished 21 of 30 for 132 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions for a passer rating of 78.8.

Even with Arizona’s defense creating three turnovers against Washington, it will be difficult for the seemingly tanky Cardinals to win games if Dobbs and the offense don’t perform better.

Eric D. Williams has been reporting on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.

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