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John Harbaugh on Rams standout rookie WR Puka Nacua pre-draft: ‘He was one of my highest-rated guys’

The Ravens head coach isn’t surprised by the day three gem’s tremendous production in year one.

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens have historically had a poor track record of evaluating and developing young wide receivers during the franchise’s otherwise sterling history when it comes to having an eye for talent at most positions. However, they appear to have hit on what already appears like a home run with the selection of former Boston College standout Zay Flowers with the No. 22 overall selection in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

They were rumored to have been interested in Flowers throughout the pre-draft process as early as the East-West Shrine Bowl where they were reportedly “connected to the hip” with him during the week of practice and they also had him in for one of their official top 30 visits. He has been electric as a rookie and currently leads the Ravens in targets (80), receptions (58), and receiving yards (613) through 12 games

According to Head Coach John Harbaugh, Flowers wasn’t the only receiver that he in particular was very high on this past spring in the months leading up to the draft. He had his eye former Brigham Young University standout Puka Nacua who fell to the fifth round where he was taken by Los Angeles Rams at No. 177 overall. He has been not only the most productive rookie receiver in the league this season thus far, but also been one of the most prolific pass catchers overall.

“I liked him. He was one of my highest-rated guys,” Harbaugh said Monday. “You can ask anybody here. Ask the wide receivers coach, Greg Lewis [and] ask the scouts. He was way up on my board.”

Nacua currently leads all rookies in targets (117), receptions (77), receiving yards (1,029), and receiving first downs (49). While his instant success and rise to budding stardom has been one of the biggest surprise stories in the league this year, Harbaugh claims that he saw it coming.

“He’s playing exactly how I thought he would, just for the record,” Harbaugh said with a smile.

The Ravens will be tasked with the challenge of limiting Nacua and the rest of the Rams’ dangerous offensive weapons when Los Angeles comes to Baltimore for a Week 14 interconference matchup. Their group of pass catchers has playmakers who specialize in making contested catches, stretching the field vertically, finding soft spots in zone coverage, and some—like Nacua and former First-Team All-Pro Cooper Kupp—who can do all the above.

“They have a really good receiving corps. They have guys all across the board,” Harbaugh said. “Cooper Kupp is not too bad either. [Tyler] Higbee is a really good tight end. Demarcus [Robinson] is playing really well, as well. [Tutu] Atwell is a speed guy, you have to keep an eye on him downfield at all times. So, it’s a good group.”

Thankfully, Baltimore has arguably the best defense in the league. Coming off a much-needed bye, they are poised to have every member of their starting secondary back for this game. That includes three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who missed their last two games with a calf injury but has been a full participant in practice this week, and seventh-year veteran free safety Marcus Williams who has been coming on strong after dealing with a hamstring and pectoral injury.

“I just feel like he’s kind of ready to step out and go make some big plays for us,” Harbaugh said of Williams. “He’s getting around the ball now. He kind of showed up downfield in front of the ball a couple of times. He made a couple hard-hitting tackles, and he looks good. He’s a guy you don’t want to forget about. He’s a great football player. Marcus is a great football player, and having him back there is a big plus for us.”