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By: Evan Craig
Puka Nacua followed up his impressive NFL debut with another dominant showing
The Los Angeles Rams weren’t able to follow up on their Week 1 upset as they lost 30-23 to the San Francisco 49ers in their home opener. Despite a losing effort, LA saw key members from their rookie class produce for the second week in a row.
Los Angeles gave the Whiners all they could handle which illustrates how bright the future is for this franchise. Here is a progress check on some notable first-year players after Week 2.
Before too long, I’ll probably start calling my weekly rookie report “The Puka Nacua Progress Check”. What more can I even say about this guy? He is one of the main reasons LA’s offense has even survived without Cooper Kupp in the lineup. Early in the second half, Nacua set a team record with most receptions by a rookie through the first two games. Once the game ended, the BYU product saw himself enter the NFL record books.
.@RamsNFL WR Puka Nacua (@AsapPuka) recorded 15 catches today, the most receptions by a rookie in a single game in @NFL history.
Nacua now has 25 receptions on the season, the most-ever by a player in his first two career games, surpassing Earl Cooper (19 in 1980).
— NFL345 (@NFL345) September 17, 2023
Against the 49ers, Nacua caught 15 passes for 147 yards on a whopping 20 targets. He must really enjoy sticking it to his NFC West rivals and for that he has my utmost respect.
It’s pretty obvious by now that Puka’s performance in the opener wasn’t a fluke. Of course we all knew that heading into this game right? The kid plays like Kupp reincarnated and I can’t imagine how much better this offense will look once they take the field together. Nacua has easily been the team MVP through the first two games. Assuming he keeps up this production, he will not only be the steal of the 2022 NFL Draft but one of the biggest steals of the last decade. Pretty neat stuff we’re witnessing.
His connection with Matthew Stafford has been a marvel to watch. Their chemistry is undeniable. By halftime, the rookie already had seven receptions for 66 yards on eight targets. Perhaps his most important catch in the first half came close to halftime with the Rams driving.
As I noted last week, Nacua has a natural feel for where the ball is at and is great at locating where to make the catch. On this particular catch, Puka moved the chains which led to LA briefly taking a 17-10 lead up until the Niners tied it heading into the break.
What a grab by Puka Nacua pic.twitter.com/WDzJL3kTNg
— SleeperNFL (@SleeperNFL) September 17, 2023
He keeps this up and the Offensive Rookie of the Year award will be firmly in his possession.
Actually this post might end up being called “The Puka Nacua and Steve Avila Progress Check”. I should really look into getting that trademarked.
The reason both of these players have seemingly been featured exclusively is due to Nacua and Avila being the most dominant rookies on the team thus far. Last week, Avila played 78 snaps while allowing zero sacks, zero pressures, zero hurries, and zero quarterback hits, according to Los Angeles Rams PR. That is pure dominance at its finest folks. The TCU product has played a significant role in LA’s retooled O-line having allowed only one sack on Stafford through two games.
Avila was in on both of Kyren Williams’ touchdowns in the first half. On the first, Avila ran down the field to prevent 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw (#57) from spinning around to make the tackle on LA’s running back.
Watch #ProFrog Steve Avila get down field and erase a defender to get his RB in the end zone. pic.twitter.com/NNMl2FotOq
— Jamie Plunkett (@FrogPreacher) September 17, 2023
On Williams’ second score of the half, he followed behind the rook who helped clear a running lane for an easy touchdown.
The @RamsNFL know what @TCUFootball knew. Running behind Steve Avila is a recipe for success. #ProFrogs pic.twitter.com/imLQELHbdg
— Jamie Plunkett (@FrogPreacher) September 17, 2023
The Rams were on the losing end to the 49ers in Week 2. Nothing new there but at least in this matchup compared to ones in year’s past, LA was unafraid to get physical and punch their bitter rival repeatedly in the mouth. It’s why they stayed in this game for as long as they did and why they might have a fighting chance in future matchups.
Holding up in the trenches is one of the main ways to hang around with the 49ers and Avila will be a major piece of this rivalry for years to come.
- Tre Tomlinson played very little but did record a tackle in the loss. With the struggles of Derion Kendrick in coverage and just about everywhere else on the field you’d have to wonder whether Tomlinson will get additional opportunities in the coming weeks. It has to be sooner rather than later as Kendrick isn’t getting the job done. He has been a proven liability through the first two games so he can’t be on a very long leash. Hey McVay and Raheem Morris, if the fans had a say in personnel matters Tre would be playing. Just saying.
Next week I better see Tre Tomlinson starting over Derion Kendrick.
— JJ Ceglio (@JJCegs24) September 17, 2023
- Byron Young recorded his first sack last week against the Seahawks. Technically it was half a sack but this time around, it was all Young and he made Brock Purdy pay. Nothing like watching that little baby-faced twerp squirm. On a crucial third-down play halfway through the second quarter, Purdy tried escaping the pocket but couldn’t as Young stopped him in his tracks. It was the only sack for the Rams in the game. In addition, the rookie recorded five total sacks in a productive outing.
#Vols former Edge Byron Young who was drafted last year by the Rams is showing out as a Rookie. pic.twitter.com/XOfTzyLEil
— Rockytopology (@rockytopology) September 17, 2023
- I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately (horrifying I know), but at what point does Zach Evans get a chance in the run game? He was inactive on Sunday. With Cam Akers inactive and on the trade block, Evans should get some chances. He’d be no better than RB3 on the depth chart behind Williams and Ronnie Rivers if he played. Maybe I just want to see what he can bring to the field. LA is such a fun and exciting team so far so perhaps Evans becomes another part of the excitement down the stretch.