SOFI DRAFT LAB – The second-youngest of five brothers, new Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua got beat up enough in that role that it proved to be a useful motivational tool when the ball was in his hands as a runner or pass-catcher.
"Getting my opportunity to hit somebody on offense is something I enjoy, bringing that physicality on offense because I'm a younger brother, I got beat up enough, so I feel like this is my opportunity to make defenders pay," Nacua said with a laugh after being selected by the Rams in the fifth round of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Nacua's upbringing is the Rams gain, in getting a versatile player who made an impact as a target in the passing game and when he got rushing attempts at BYU.
He led the Cougars in receiving in his final season with 48 catches for 625 yards and five touchdowns last year, while also averaging 8.4 yards per carry (25 attempts for 209 rushing yards) and scoring five rushing touchdowns.
It's a valuable skillset to have, especially for a Los Angeles offense that has historically utilized receivers in that manner.
"I think I'm a bigger receiver," said Nacua, who measured 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds. "I'm over 200 pounds, I feel like I've run as if when I was playing running back. So when I get the ball in my hands, I try not to go out of bounds. If we're going to meet near the sideline, I'm going to put my shoulder pads down and we're going to meet right there in the middle. Those are the things that excite meet about playing football and I feel like separate me from other receivers. As much as I like catching easy touchdowns and walk-ins and making the fancy juke moves, I love to punish a defender and make the right blocking play. Those are just as fun as scoring touchdowns."
Take a look at photos of new Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua from his time at BYU.
Nacua didn't rush at all during his time at the University of Washington, where he began his college football career, so it was something he said took some getting used to. Once he became comfortable with it, it played an important role in his development as a player.
"Just the understanding of spacing and body movement, it allowed me to understand more, truly looking at the whole defense and the whole picture of understanding where the defense is going to move, where pre-snap alignment is going to adjust for guys," Nacua said. "Looking at everything inside the box, it's not like while I'm playing as wide receiver and I'm stretched out to the field. Everything within the box is so bang-bang, everybody's bigger and faster than the guys playing wideout and corner, so understanding the defense was a huge advantage for me, being able to see the whole picture and know where I can take advantage knowing what the defense is going to do."
It doesn't hurt, either, that his former wide receivers coach at Washington – Junior Adams – helped Cooper Kupp at Eastern Washington.
"We'd always watch his tape," Nacua said. "I'm definitely a fan of watching someone who moves as well as he does. I'm excited to learn from him and everybody in that room, but I think there's a sense of confidence and preparedness that he comes with on the mental side of the game that allows his physical abilities to thrive for him."