National Football League
Rams WR Puka Nacua leaning on Cooper Kupp to help him gear up for Year 2
National Football League

Rams WR Puka Nacua leaning on Cooper Kupp to help him gear up for Year 2

Published Apr. 16, 2024 1:34 p.m. ET

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Puka Nacua is on his way to being best buds with Cooper Kupp.

"I wouldn't consider us best friends, but hopefully I'm close to it," Nacua said. "I think I've got to be considered in the close friend relationship, for sure." 

But the second-year Rams receiver still has some steps to take on the journey. 

Kupp invited Nacua to train with him this offseason at his Southern California home and at first, Nacua didn't exactly ingratiate himself to his fellow receiver. During the first week of training, Nacua said he puked on Kupp's grass because of the intense workouts.


"His conditioning days were some of the tougher ones," Nacua said. "The first week I came back out, I think I threw up every day of the week. And he wasn't a fan of that because it was on his lawn and stuff. He was like, ‘You're throwing up in my bushes Puka, thanks.' But it was super fun."

Nacua said he eventually got back into shape, working out with Kupp for two months after the season. The workouts focused on improving mobility and explosive, top-end speed. Improving his nutrition has also been a point of emphasis for Nacua, with a little less McDonald's to avoid the puking after Kupp's 6 a.m. workouts. 

This week Nacua joined the rest of his teammates for the start of offseason work at Rams headquarters. He is coming off one of the best performances by a rookie receiver in league history. With 105 receptions for 1,486 receiving yards, he finished with the most receptions and receiving yards in the NFL. He had seven games of 100-plus receiving yards, joining Odell Beckham Jr. (2014) and Ja'Marr Chase (2022) as the only players to accomplish that during their rookie years. Nacua was particularly effective against zone coverage, finishing with 974 yards, according to Next Gen Stats, the most by a rookie over the past six seasons. 

Nacua was selected as a second-team All-Pro and a finalist for the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, which went to Houston QB C.J. Stroud.

Receivers traditionally make a jump in development and production from their first NFL season to their second. And while it will be difficult for Puka to eclipse his 2023 numbers, the former fifth-round pick still sees areas to improve. 

Nacua is quick to point out that he was among the NFL leaders in drops last season. And even though he started all 17 games and the team's postseason loss to the Detroit Lions, Nacua, who played in 87% of the team's total snaps, says he wants to improve his conditioning so he can be on the field more. He has dropped a few pounds, hoping to be lighter on his feet, and he wants to find a professional who can do body work so he can better take the punishment of a marathon NFL season.

"I feel like I'm trying to still reach Cooper's expectations because he set the standard for us in the wide receiver room, and I think for a lot of receivers in the NFL," Nacua said. "To be a triple crown winner, and I don't know how many wide receivers are a Super Bowl MVP, so the standard is still set very high, and I don't know how close I am to reaching it. 

"But it makes it fun because I know there's more still to grab. I feel like last year was so much fun and I learned a lot. But there's still so much left on the table. Cooper is the mastermind of running routes, and he was very open and honest with me on where I can improve." 

While he's been working this offseason, Nacua also has been out in the spotlight as well, attending this year's Super Bowl in Las Vegas and participating in the NBA All-Star Celebrity game in Indianapolis. 

Heading into Year 2, the secret is out around the league on Nacua. So could the 22-year-old see more double teams in his future?

"I think the one time I received a double team was in Week 18 against the 49ers," Nacua said. "I think [teams] were a little more prepared for me in the back half of the season. But I trust our coaches and myself in the work we've put together as an offense and a crew here. 

"And we'll be ready for any game plan that the defense has for us." 

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.


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