Heading into Week 1, nobody knew what to expect from the Los Angeles Rams’ offense. The general expectation was that the offense would not produce, and there wouldn’t be anyone who was a viable fantasy option.
This could not have been farther from the truth. The Rams scored 30 points on Sunday in a statement victory over the Seahawks. On top of this, several players emerged as legitimate offensive threats. These included Kyren Williams, Tutu Atwell, and, most importantly, Puka Nacua.
THE COOPER KUPP ROLE
The emergence of Nacua would not have been possible without a hamstring injury to Cooper Kupp. In the absence of Kupp, Nacua had a performance that we would expect to see from Kupp. Fifteen targets, 10 receptions, and 119 yards for Nacua on Sunday. In his first career NFL game, Nacua was tied for the most targets to any player this week.
You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating: volume is king in fantasy football. With Kupp sidelined, Nacua is in line for quite the workload. Fifteen targets are not realistic every week. However, a dip to 8-10 targets would still allow the rookie to be very fantasy-relevant.
WHO IS PUKA?
Despite severely lacking in the athleticism department, Nacua led BYU in receiving over his final two years in Provo. In 2021, his yards per route run (YPRR) ranked only behind Jaxon Smith-Njigba. In 2022, he was PFF’s highest-graded receiver in the country at 90.1. The versatile Cougar put together nearly 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns over his final two seasons and even carried the ball 25 times during his final season.
After falling to the Rams in the fifth round, the marriage seemed to be the perfect scheme fit, with Nacua being comp’d to Robert Woods due to his versatility in college.
“It’s been really impressive how quickly he’s gotten up to speed,” McVay told reporters during camp. “Matthew [Stafford] has done a great job of really just kind of taking him under his wing and being able to kind of just help give those little nuances, having Cooper [Kupp] back.”
From day one, McVay, Stafford, and Kupp praised the rookie during training camp. Not only was he making play after play, but his ability to quickly pick up the playbook and understand the nuances of the position set him apart from the other wideouts.
“So he’s smart, he’s conscientious,” McVay added. “It’s hard to really compare to anybody because a lot of those guys, whether you talk about Robert [Woods’s] first year, Cooper’s rookie year, having Sammy [Watkins] but then ended up having Brandin Cooks, there’s been a standard set in that room where there’s been really conscientious players.
“And so, he’s a guy that we’re expecting him to come in, expecting him to be able to contribute and compete. Every spot is going to be earned on this team, but I really like what he’s done and I think it’s a credit to everybody around him and his conscientiousness.”
WHAT’S HIS VALUE?
The biggest question is, what is Puka Nacua worth? Every year, players have blowup games early in the year and then are a disappointment down the stretch. But is Nacua one of these players? The answer is no.
Obviously, Nacua’s value takes an enormous hit when Kupp returns. However, Nacua is guaranteed at least three more games without Kupp. During this time, expect him to see consistent targets. While seeing regular work, Nacua is a flex option, if not better. But, if you look at his route tree, he lined up all over the field, giving him a chance to make a significant impact if/when Kupp returns.
Week 2 will be a real test for Puka’s role in Los Angeles and his fantasy value. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of watching Week 2 before deciding what to do with Puka. Nacua will be picked up in nearly every league, meaning he must be a waiver target this week. Given the number of looks he saw in Week 1, Nacua must be targeted on waivers. If you are lucky enough to grab him, he could easily slide into your lineup immediately, depending on your roster’s depth.
THE FINAL TAKE
The final take on Nacua is pretty straightforward. Puka Nacua should be owned in every league. There are only two situations where he should not be a waiver wire target. First, if Nacua is already owned in your league. Second, your team needs running backs. If your team is set on running backs, put in a claim or bid for Nacua, it’s as simple as that.
The Wolf is still low on Nacua, as he lands at WR50 (-10 vs ECR) on his 2023 Rest of Season Big Board.