Rams' Puka Nacua isn't the first to go from unknown to can't miss

ByAnthony Gharib ESPN logo
Monday, September 18, 2023

Entering the season, Los Angeles Rams rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua found himself in the shadows of Cooper Kupp as a fifth round pick out of BYU. But with Kupp on the injured reserve, Nacua has seamlessly filled his absence.

After 10 catches and 119 yards last week against the Seattle Seahawks, the fifth round draft pick followed it up with 15 receptions and 147 yards against the San Francisco 49ers.

His hot start is nothing short of historic.

Nacua's 25 combined receptions through two games is the most ever by a rookie in NFL history and third overall, only behind Andre Rison (26) and Michael Thomas (28), according to ESPN Stats & Info. He's also the first player to have 10 receptions and 100 receiving yards in his first two games.

The numbers are eye-popping, the only stat missing being a touchdown. But will Nacua be able to keep it up? Here are some other NFL players who went from underhyped to hard to miss on the gridiron:

Tom Brady

After being picked in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, Brady ended up with one of the most decorated careers. And there may not be a better "rags to riches" story in NFL history.

Brady spent his rookie season as a backup before stepping in for an injured Drew Bledsoe in the second game of the 2001 season. He threw for 168 yards and no touchdowns in his first start, but helped the New England Patriots win their first Super Bowl.

The rest was history -- seven Super Bowl wins, five Super Bowl MVPs, 15 Pro Bowls appearances and three regular season MVPs.

Kurt Warner

It's difficult to talk about players who went from underhyped to NFL star without mentioning Kurt Warner.

The former quarterback went undrafted out of South Dakota State in the 1994 NFL draft. After stints in the Arena Football League and NFL Europe, Warner signed with the Rams as a backup in 1998.

Warner was named the starter after a preseason injury to QB Trent Green and he made the most of his opportunity. In his first start, Warner had three touchdowns and 309 yards. He threw for 4,353 yards and 41 touchdowns and led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory and an MVP award for himself.

Over a 12-year playing career, Warner won two MVPs and was a four-time Pro Bowler.

James Harrison

James Harrison almost quit football after being cut four times in the NFL. He got his break in 2004, becoming a full time contributor for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had six tackles with two for a loss in his first NFL start.

By 2007, Harrison was one of the best linebackers in the league. He earned Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008, the first undrafted player to ever win the award.

Harrison won two Super Bowls as a key member of the Steelers' vaunted defense and was named to the Pro Bowl five times. He's widely regarded as one of the greatest undrafted players of all time.

Shannon Sharpe

A seventh-round draft pick out of Savannah State, there wasn't much hype following Shannon Sharpe coming into the NFL. His first two seasons didn't offer enough to silence the doubters -- Sharpe had just 29 combined receptions and two touchdowns.

But then he exploded in the 1992 season for his first of eight Pro Bowl appearances. Sharpe had 640 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He followed that up with a season of 995 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.

The success only began for Sharpe, as he accumulated 10,060 receiving yards and 62 career touchdowns to go along with three Super Bowls.

Brock Purdy

The 2022 NFL draft Mr. Irrelevant became extremely relevant last season for the 49ers. After injuries to starting quarterbacks Trey Lance andJimmy Garoppolo, Brock Purdy stepped in seamlessly.

Purdy has yet to lose a full start entering this season -- the 49ers lost against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game after Purdy left early with an injury. Purdy became the only rookie quarterback to beat Tom Brady in his first career start.

He ended up throwing for 1,374 yards and 13 touchdowns in nine games last season. So far, Purdy has three total touchdowns and 426 passing yards this year.

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