February 27, 2024

Might as well engrave the nameplate on the NFL offensive rookie of the year award now. After passing for 826 yards and six touchdowns in his last two games, Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud is lapping the field.

Stroud, the second overall pick in this year’s draft out of Ohio State, is on pace to pass for nearly 5,000 yards, which would smash the rookie record of 4,374 yards set by the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck in 2012.

Another rookie is also on pace to shatter an NFL record, yet he was the 177th pick in the draft.

Puka Nacua, the Rams receiver with the catchy name and irrepressible personality, has 64 catches through nine games, putting him on pace for 121 over 17 games.

The current record of 104 was set by the Miami Dolphins’ Jaylen Waddle in 2021. The only other rookie to reach triple digits in receptions is the Arizona Cardinals’ Anquan Boldin, who had 101 in 2003.

It probably won’t be enough to eclipse Stroud for rookie of the year, but Nacua has exceeded expectations even though coach Sean McVay already felt he snagged the best player in the fifth round, a well-rounded receiver who could immediately become a legitimate second option to Cooper Kupp.

Nacua has been targeted by Rams quarterbacks 96 times — third most in the NFL — but he was first targeted by McVay. Although Nacua played only 32 college games at Washington and Brigham Young because of injuries, McVay saw enough film of his precision route-running, sticky hands and willingness to block to prioritize drafting him.

The Rams gambled that Nacua would remain on the board through four-plus rounds, primarily because 33 other rookie receivers ran faster 40 times than the 4.57 seconds he clocked. His pedestrian speed hasn’t kept him from making big plays: Nacua’s 16 receptions of at least 20 yards ties the Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill for the NFL lead.

“With some evaluations, you’re like, ‘OK, we think this kid does this good, does this not so good, let’s take a chance on him,’” Rams general manager Les Snead told The Times. “But then there are those players where [McVay] is already game-planning with him while he’s watching him at BYU. That’s Puka. They don’t come around often.”

After putting the league on notice with 25 receptions in the first two games, Nacua’s pace has slowed because of injuries to quarterback Matthew Stafford and the return of Kupp from an injury five games ago. Nacua has made only three catches in each of the last two games.

He needs to average five catches per game to reach Waddle’s record. The Rams aren’t concerned with numbers. Nacua just needs to be Nacua.

“Just keep coming out with that same energy, that same style of play that he plays with,” Rams offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said earlier this season. “It’s awesome for our squad to have a guy like that.”

Another excellent rookie receiver has been the Vikings’ Jordan Addison, who transferred to USC from Pittsburgh before the 2022 season and was a primary target of Caleb Williams. Addison has 45 catches for 603 yards and seven touchdowns with Minnesota and hasn’t dropped a pass.

For his part, Stroud — who has passed for 2,626 yards and 15 touchdowns with only two interceptions — distributes the ball to a variety of receivers, including former Rams and USC standout Robert Woods. The former Rancho Cucamonga High standout does have a quality rookie to target — Tank Dell, a third-round pick who has 35 receptions for 510 yards and five touchdowns.

MOST CATCHES IN A SEASON BY A ROOKIE

104: Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins, 2021

101: Anquan Bolden, Cardinals, 2003

92: Michael Thomas, Saints, 2016

91: Odell Beckham, Giants, 2014

91: Saquon Barkley, Giants, 2018

91: Eddie Royal, Broncos, 2008

90: Aman-ra St.-Brown, Lions, 2021

90: Terry Glenn, Patriots, 1996

MOST PASSING YARDS IN A SEASON BY A ROOKIE

4,374: Andrew Luck, Colts, 2012

4,336: Justin Herbert, 2020

4,051: Cam Newton, Panthers, 2011

4,042: Jameis Winston, Buccaneers, 2015

3,801: Mac Jones, Patriots, 2021

3,782: Carson Wentz, Eagles, 2016

3,739: Peyton Manning, Colts, 1998

3,725: Baker Mayfield, Browns, 2018

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