The biggest offensive surprise of the first two weeks of the 2023 NFL season? I have to think it's Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua. Selected in the fifth round of April's draft, the BYU product has caught everything Matthew Stafford has thrown his way, setting several league records in the process.
The rookie followed his 10-catch, 119-yard NFL debut with a 15-catch, 147-yard performance in Week 2. Nacua's 15 catches were the most by a rookie wide receiver in a game in NFL history, besting Deion Branch's 13 in in Week 4 of 2002. Nacua's 25 receptions are also the most by a rookie through his first two games in NFL history.
What Nacua is doing is impressive, yes, but it's no fluke.
"He's a stud," Rams head coach Sean McVay said after Nacua's record-setting performance Sunday, via Sarah Barshop of ESPN. "The game makes sense to him. Physically and mentally tough. Works really hard. He's very inquisitive. He asks a lot of questions, and he's got great guys to be able to lean on.
"His rapport with Matthew [Stafford], where they're able to bounce things off of one another, I think that's been a real positive, and Puka's going to continue to improve."
Nacua has filled a void in the Rams' offense left by Cooper Kupp, who's currently on IR with a hamstring injury and will be out at least until Week 5. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound wide receiver is a great matchup against smaller corners and has the lateral movement to work well inside the numbers. Between McVay's knack for regularly scheming players open and Stafford's throwing ability, Nacua will continue to be a playmaker for this young Rams team. Nacua's production might dip when Kupp eventually returns, but he'll still get his fair share of targets, given all the defensive attention that will be paid to Kupp.
Here are two more offensive players whose early season success isn't a fluke:
We were urged by the Packers to "temper" expectations for Love as he prepared to take over for Aaron Rodgers. But one early similarity between Love and Rodgers is impossible to ignore: Rodgers has led the NFL in passer rating four times in his career, and Love is currently in the top spot with a mark of 118.8. Love also leads the league in TD-to-INT ratio (6:0) and has helped the Packers to a 1-1 start.
The fourth-year pro hasn’t been perfect. He’s had some inconsistencies as a passer, and the no-snap QB sneak in Sunday's loss to the Falcons was a tremendous fail. But Love has had early success in his first season as the Packers’ QB1 because he’s done a great job orchestrating the offense and getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers. Matt LaFleur has effectively mixed in the run game with screen plays and made good use of play action, getting the young wide receivers running in open space. Love has connected with eight pass-catchers over the first two games; second-round rookie Jayden Reed leads the way with 13 targets and is tied for the most receptions (six), with Romeo Doubs. This unit is building confidence before our eyes, and it will still get Christian Watson back at some point.
Love has handled the pressure well, but he faces a major test Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, who boast a top-five scoring defense (allowing 16 points per game) and total defense (allowing 262 yards per game).
Howell is fun to watch, even though he's not the most physically imposing player under center. On Sunday, Howell became the second QB of the Super Bowl era to win each of his first three NFL starts (going back to Week 18 of last season) and have at least 200 total yards and two total touchdowns in each game, joining my colleague and Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, per NFL Research. Taking 10 sacks in two games this season, Howell has done a great job keeping plays alive with a good feel for playing the position.
Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has mixed in the run with some unconventional play calls in the pass game, scheming a talented wide receiver group open, and Howell's anticipation and trust in his receivers when throwing into open space has shown up on Sundays. Having that trust is something you can’t teach, and it’s a rare attribute in a young quarterback. I’m eager to see how his connection with Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Co. grows.
Top 15 offensive player rankings
Entering the 2023 NFL season, former No. 1 overall pick and NFL Network analyst David Carr takes a look at all offensive players and ranks his top 15. For the first quarter of the season, the rankings are based on a combination of:
- Player accomplishments from the 2022 season.
- Weekly performances, factoring in strength of opponent.
Rankings will be solely judged on this season's efforts following Week 4. Arrow's reflect changes from Week 2's ranking. Heading into Week 3, here is Carr's list:
McCaffrey had another huge game in the 49ers’ divisional win over the Rams, rushing for 116 yards and a score on 20 attempts. The simplest way I can illustrate his impact? The 49ers are 12-0 in the regular season in games that McCaffrey has started.
The Chiefs’ offense looked better in its second outing of the season, with Travis Kelce back in the mix and Kadarius Toney catching all five of his targets. Mahomes once again led the charge, completing 70.7 percent of his pass attempts. The unit started hitting its stride in the final two quarters of the win over Jacksonville, as Mahomes found old trusty for a 9-yard TD toss in the third quarter and dazzled with an improvised connection with Skyy Moore late in the fourth.
Josh Allen and the Bills desperately needed a get-right performance, and they got in Sunday's convincing 38-10 romp against the Raiders. Allen completed 83.8 percent of his attempts and threw for three touchdowns, including this sidearm gem to Khalil Shakir late in the first half. The most important aspect of Allen’s outing, though, was that he protected the ball -- a welcome turnaround from Week 1’s four-turnover debacle.
Justin Jefferson seems to break an NFL record every time he takes the field. With 11 receptions and 159 receiving yards in the Thursday Night Football loss to the Eagles, Jefferson became the second player in NFL history to log 5,000-plus career receiving yards prior to turning 25 years old, joining Hall of Famer Randy Moss. Jefferson, who doesn’t turn 25 until June, also tied Hall of Famer Lance Alworth for reaching the 5,000-yard mark in the fewest games (52). He’s a star. There’s no doubt about that. You just know that costly turnover at the goal-line against Philly is motivating him ahead of this weekend’s clash with the Chargers.
Like the entire Cowboys team, Lamb was great in Week 1 against the Giants, catching all four targets for 77 yards. But he hit another level in Week 2’s win over the Jets, tying his career high of 11 receptions, good for 143 yards. He was all over the field, finding open space against a stingy Jets defense and making contested catches when blanketed.
The Saints’ offense found success in spurts during Monday's win over Carolina, but the obvious turning point was Olave’s circus catch midway through the third quarter on a crucial third-and-7. The catch changed the nature of the entire game, with the drive ending in New Orleans’ first touchdown of the night.
Evans has been a key contributor since arriving in Tampa in 2014. Now in his 10th season, he’s still averaging 118.5 receiving yards per game through two weeks. In the Bucs’ Week 2 victory over Chicago, Evans logged his 10th career game with at least 150 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown. What he’s doing shouldn’t be overlooked.
Smith has excelled as a deep threat right out of the gate for the Eagles, catching the two longest receptions of his career in a Week 2 win over Minnesota: a 54-yard gain and a 63-yard touchdown. A.J. Brown might have the most targets on the team through two weeks, but Smith, who compiled 1,196 receiving yards last season, leads the group in yards with 178, and he moves into my ranking this week, while Brown drops out.
Tagovailoa’s passing production naturally fell off after he tallied 466 yards in the season-opener. The Dolphins operated a more balanced offense in Week 2’s 24-17 road win over New England, but Tua was still efficient in completing 70 percent of his passes for 249 yards, one touchdown (against one pick) and a 92.2 passer rating. That’s the kind of line we can expect when Tyreek Hill doesn’t have a day.
Two games into the season, the Eagles’ offense has yet to really mesh, evidenced by the heated discussion on the sideline between Hurts and A.J. Brown. Hurts played good enough to win in Week 2 -- those four turnovers from Minnesota certainly helped -- using the virtually unstoppable push play to get into the end zone twice and throwing a 63-yard scoring strike to DeVonta Smith. A tough Bucs defense is next on tap.
Kelce got his feet wet last week against Jacksonville with four catches, 26 yards and a touchdown. Just having him on the field made the Chiefs’ offense immediately better than it was in Week 1. Everyone looked more at ease and in sync. Expect more connections between Patrick Mahomes and Kelce against a Bears defense that has allowed at least 25 points in 12 straight games.
Jackson is a “different,” better version of himself this season. On top of his play-making talent as a runner, his ability as a passer has been magnified in Todd Monken’s offense, and it was on full display in Sunday’s win over the Bengals, as he completed 24 of his 33 pass attempts for 237 yards, two touchdowns and a 112.8 passer rating. Jackson has had the most success after halftime in his games so far, leading the league in second-half completion percentage (90.0) and passer rating (142.7) this season.
Stafford threw his first touchdown of the season Sunday, a 6-yard pass to RB Kyren Williams, but also threw a pair of interceptions in a loss to the 49ers. The veteran is off to a hot start with 641 passing yards through two games (the most through Week 2 in his career), and he’s been able to find success in the pass game with great protection. Stafford’s recorded 93 pass attempts, and he's been sacked once.
JUST MISSED: Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (previously No. 7); Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders (No. 8); Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (No. 11); Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns (No. 13); A.J. Brown, WR, Philadelphia Eagles (No. 14); Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills; Garrett Wilson, WR, New York Jets.