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Dynasty Player Spotlight: Puka Nacua

By C. H. Herms 3:20pm EDT 9/19/23

Performances For The Record Books

Welcome back for another edition of the Dynasty Player Spotlight series.

Each week, we’ll take a look at some key performances from the NFL and deliver actionable analysis that dynasty managers should use to their advantage.

We got to watch considerably more exciting games in Week 2.

A few teams that struggled last Sunday, like the Giants and Seahawks, were able to see their offenses bounce back and deliver solid fantasy production. Some usual suspects, such as 49ers RB Christian McCaffrey or Vikings WR Justin Jefferson, maintained their typical dominance.

Unfortunately, there were some more terrible injuries to star players as well. Prayers up for Browns RB Nick Chubb.

But rather than focusing on the bad, we will discuss a good story from Week 2. In fact, our subject isn’t just good… he’s historic!

Let’s talk about Rams rookie WR Puka Nacua.

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Hollywood Gets Another Star?

The 2023 fifth-round NFL Draft pick has gone from taxi squad dart throw to bonafide superstar in a matter of just a few months.

We'll give ourselves a smidgen of credit for mentioning Nacua as a name to watch on our list of Dynasty Rookie Sleepers for the 2023 season. Still, he’s gone far above and beyond to shatter our expectations.

Anyone who claims they saw this meteoric rise coming has a bridge to sell you.

On Sunday, Nacua hauled in 15 of his 20 (!!!) targets for 147 receiving yards vs. the 49ers. His 30.1 PPR points in that contest rank as the second-best total of Week 2 behind only Chargers WR Keenan Allen (31.1).

Through two games, he’s accumulated 25 catches on 35 targets, 266 receiving yards, and 52.0 PPR points.

In addition to being the first player with at least 10 receptions and 100 receiving yards in each of his first two career games, ESPN’s Adam Schefter shared that Nacua is only the fifth player in NFL history with at least 10 receptions and 100 receiving yards through a team's first two games.

Some of the names the BYU product joins on this list might sound familiar to long-time football fans:

  • Andre Rison (1994)
  • Isaac Bruce (1998)
  • Miles Austin (2010)
  • Rams teammate Cooper Kupp (2022)

That’s some excellent company to be in, for sure.

More Historic Facts!

To save some time, let’s just condense the remainder of Nacua’s achievements into list form:

  • His 15 catches in Week 2 set the NFL’s single-game rookie record.
  • His 25 receptions through his first two games broke the prior rookie record held by former 49ers WR Earl Cooper (19) set in 1980.
  • Since the NFL started tracking targets in 1992, he ranks first in that category among rookies through two games, and second behind former Cardinals WR Anquan Bolden in both receiving yards (279) and total PPR points (55.9).

Now we can dive deeper into the weeds with the barrage of trivia behind us.

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Inside The Numbers

To get a better idea of how successful this rookie has truly been, why not look at some of the underlying data?

Nacua presently leads the NFL with a 39.3% target share and is tied for seventh in yards per route run (3.40). He also carries a solid 71.4% catch rate, an 8.1-yard average target depth, and 7.6 yards per target.

One area managers can expect the rookie to regress in as time unfolds is [spoiler alert] target share.

Once Cooper Kupp’s hamstring heals and he returns from IR, Nacua's obscenely-high involvement will take a hit. Some will look at this future guarantee and say that’s a good reason to “sell high” on the rookie right this moment.

We don’t agree with those people. Well, at least not for that narrow reason.

Fortunately, the game of football is one in which a team's QB will look to throw the ball to more than one person at a high clip throughout the course of a season. Yes, target volume is a critical component of success, but at this point…

A.) Why would the Rams put the figurative Puka genie back in the bottle?
B.) Hamstring injuries are notoriously fickle beasts. Remember: Kupp has been dealing with this ailment since August 2.

There is absolutely room for both of these players to coexist, and Nacua will likely continue to see the ball often enough to produce (albeit at a slightly more reasonable level) for fantasy. This becomes an even greater possibility if Kupp doesn't return at 100%.

Through The Lens of Rookie Production

In an effort to contextualize Nacua's early results, let's focus more on those other numbers we talked about before.

48 different WRs have seen at least 50 targets in their rookie season over the last five seasons.

For this exercise, I looked for past rookies with a similar aDOT, catch rate, and yards per target to find a handful of loose comparisons for Nacua.

Before we get to these findings, it's important to remember a few things:

  • We only have two games worth of data for Nacua
  • More predictive metrics require a much larger sample than the one currently available to us
  • This is merely a thought experiment

That established, here are some players that align closest (in no particular order):

YearName aDOT Catch Rate Yards Per Target
2019Deebo Samuel 7.5 70.4% 9.9
2021Amon-Ra St. Brown 7.1 75.6% 7.7
2021Rashod Bateman 8.8 67.6% 7.6
2019Diontae Johnson9.264.1%7.4
2021Jaylen Waddle7.174.3%7.3

At first glance, you'll notice that this list is littered with players who, at one point or another, were valued as mid-to-high-end WR2s in dynasty. The reason this thought experiment was performed was to find an approximate value ceiling for Nacua. 

Managers hellbent on acquiring him in dynasty leagues right now should look to these players as the maximum value threshold for the highest-dollar offer possible.

If you're looking to avoid paying a ridiculous premium beyond that, move on and wait out the inflated market price.

Those looking to sell Nacua and receive aggressively high returns beyond this value should feel free to do so. You're playing with house money at this point given that you likely acquired him with a third-round rookie draft pick at most.

Worst case scenario is that he stinks once Kupp comes back and you've missed out, or he becomes the next Amon-Ra St. Brown and you've dealt him away for a package of players or picks at a WR1 price. That's not a bad position to be in considering how hard reading the future is and how low the likely initial investment cost was.

Just remember that selling for the sake of selling for profit of any kind is suboptimal. Sellers are also welcome to wait out the market.

TIP

Never make a deal without consulting our dynasty trade value charts.

Don't Overlook The B-Plot

A familiar storytelling formula in literature, TV, or film is an A/B/C plot outline.

It’s pretty easy to apply to sports as well. For example, we’ve discussed at length what Nacua has done over the first two weeks of the 2023 season. He’s our principal character, our superstar, and the subject of the A-plot of the Rams’ offensive story right now.

But he’s not the only one making for an exciting tale. Teammate Tutu Atwell is writing a compelling parallel B-plot on the field as the secondary wideout in Los Angeles.

Atwell is currently the WR16 overall in PPR scoring with a mirroring 3.40 yards per route run on a 13.4-yard aDOT. He's logged at least 6 catches and 75 receiving yards through the Rams' two games this season.

Sustaining that kind of production on such deep passes is difficult to do. This isn't to say that Atwell is secretly the character you should be focused on instead.

But if you're looking to acquire a cheaper share of this Rams' offense, managers should consider giving Atwell a look.

Conclusion

Maybe there's something brewing here with HC Sean McVay's offense.

It's been a while since we saw Kupp, Robert Woods, and Brandin Cooks perform as a dominant trio for fantasy purposes. We're not about to sit here and declare that's what's about to happen again with these guys in 2023 either.

Heck, Kupp might struggle once he comes back like we talked about earlier.

But one thing is certain: the Rams will be a team to keep an eye on moving forward.

Their upcoming schedule has more than a few solid matchups, too:

  • Week 3 @ CIN
  • Week 4 @ IND
  • Week 5 vs. PHI
  • Week 6 vs. ARI
  • Week 7 vs. PIT
  • Week 8 @ DAL
  • Week 9 @ GB
  • Week 10 Bye

Be mindful of the distant C-plot potentially evolving in the background of it all.

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