Puka Nacua highlights 2023 super draft as Rams load up on picks for 2024 repeat

After finishing his record-breaking rookie season, Rams receiver Puka Nacua was on the move.

He participated in the Pro Bowl Games in Florida, made the media rounds and attended NFL Honors at the Super Bowl in Las Vegas, and wowed during NBA All-Star weekend by throwing down multiple celebrity-game dunks in Indianapolis.

Now Nacua is back in Southern California and preparing for the 2024 season.

“The idea of just like getting back into training is kind of exciting,” Nacua told reporters recently before an event for Rams season-ticket holders in Inglewood. “It’s like, ‘OK, this is what I get to wake up and do all day.’”

Nacua, a fifth-round pick, was the shiniest diamond in the Rams’ highly productive 2023 draft class.

The Rams, with about $40 million in salary-cap space, are expected to bolster the roster next week when free agency begins. The Rams rank 12th in the NFL in available cap space, according to overthecap.com.

But Rams general manager Les Snead must continue to find productive and cost-efficient players in the draft, which will be held April 25-27 in Detroit. The Rams have needs at edge rusher, cornerback, offensive line, receiver and tight end, among other positions.

They have the No. 19 pick, giving them the opportunity to draft a player in the first round for the first time since 2016. But history suggests that Snead will trade back for more picks in a draft that he is expected to enter with 11.

“The one thing that our group has proven is that they can find talent anywhere,” said Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ chief operating officer. “We found it the first round, we found it in the fifth, sixth, seventh and undrafted.”

Snead, coach Sean McVay and Rams scouts and player personnel staff scored big last year when they drafted offensive lineman Steve Avila in the second round, edge rusher Byron Young and nose tackle Kobie Turner in the third and Nacua in the fifth.

All became starters for a team that finished 10-7 and advanced to the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons under McVay. Nacua and Turner were finalists for the NFL offensive and defensive rookie-of-the-year awards.

Those performances were especially important for an organization that, after a disastrous Super Bowl hangover in 2022, pulled back financially and did not spend in free agency.

In the months after the draft, they signed cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, receiver Demarcus Robinson, safety John Johnson and linebacker Troy Reeder to veteran-minimum contracts.

“As we saw last year, sometimes with some patience, some things can work out and come to you,” McVay said. “We’ll see if that ends up being the case as well.”

Snead and McVay, following what has become their trend-setting custom, were absent from the recent NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, preferring instead to review prospects’ testing and workout video in Thousand Oaks while onboarding new coaches.

For evaluating prospects, college game video remains “the best guide,” McVay said.

“It’s really watching the film, understanding the person, and then really figuring out, all right, how do they fit based on who we already have in-house?” McVay said. “And you’re trying to build a team, not just collect talent.”

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Nacua outperformed NFL scouts’ pre-draft projection by more than any rookie in the league. He caught 105 passes for 1,486 yards and six touchdowns.

Nacua said he learned “never to be afraid to ask questions” and would continue to rely on veteran receiver Cooper Kupp and others.

“Back working out with Coop and and training out here in L.A.,” he said. “It’s been super fun to get back into it and have somebody who I can follow.”

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