C.J. Stroud, Puka Nacua among the rookies who benefitted from Pro Bowl Games


ORLANDO, Fla. — The seven rookies participating in the Pro Bowl Games benefitted from two main things over the past week: a chance to mingle with some of the NFL’s best players, and information.

It’s the latter that will be the most valuable.

“The tips and pointers just on the season and things like that,” Houston Texans quarterback C.J. Stroud said. “All information is good.”

Stroud was the most impressive rookie Sunday at Camping World Stadium, where the AFC won the flag football game 50-34 but lost the overall competition 64-59. He threw for a game-high 173 yards and two touchdowns, though his final pass on fourth down fell incomplete in the end zone with 4 seconds to play.

Stroud said he enjoyed the week, especially spending time around players such as Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase and Los Angeles Chargers receiver Keenan Allen.

“It’s been amazing being around great players,” Stroud said. “Just try to get to know people. Had a good time here, and hopefully it’s the first of many.”

The other six rookies — Houston linebacker Will Anderson, Denver returner Marvin Mims, Los Angeles Rams receiver Puka Nacua and Detroit defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, tight end Sam LaPorta and running back Jahmyr Gibbs — might not have had the kind of impact on the flag football game that Stroud did, but that wasn’t important.

Getting the chance to pick their teammates’ brains for any advice was the best part of the week in Orlando. That’s something veterans such as Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker — who was making his 12th appearance — said will be invaluable for them going forward.

“The thing that I remember being told when I was a second-, third-year player was, ‘Hey, when you get a chance to pick someone’s brain who’s been there and done that, especially at a high level, start the conversation,'” Tucker said. “Just learn what you can, be a sponge and soak up all the information that you can, because there’s definitely going to be some wisdom in there that will be really valuable.”

Here are some other top moments from the week:

Calling plays

Minnesota Vikings receivers coach Keenan McCardell appeared in two Pro Bowls as a player, once with the Jacksonville Jaguars and once with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, so the experience wasn’t entirely new to him. But calling plays was. McCardell hadn’t done that before as an NFL coach until this week as the NFC’s offensive coordinator for the flag football game.

“It was fun,” McCardell said. “It was good to be around the greats, the all-stars of this league and get a chance to call some plays. They made it easy. You call ’em, they make it happen. It’s about just good communication.

“Baker [Mayfield] came in for us at the end and just lit it up for me. We talked. He was like, ‘Hey, I like this [play].’ I was like, ‘I like it, too. So let’s roll if you like it.'”

Mayfield threw for 102 yards and two touchdowns and won the offensive MVP.

McCardell played 16 years in the NFL from 1992 to 2007 and started his coaching career in 2010 with Washington as a receivers coach. He also coached receivers at Maryland and in Jacksonville before spending the past three seasons with the Vikings.

Calling plays in a flag football game doesn’t exactly equate to calling plays in the NFL, but he now at least has a good line on his resume.

“If you want to call it that, yes — I’m 1-0 as a playcaller,” he joked.

Best catch

Los Angeles Rams receiver Puka Nacua set the NFL records for most receptions (105) and receiving yards (1,486) by a rookie, so it was only natural that he won the best catch competition against Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku. Njoku hauled in a pass while doing a flip into the water while Nacua caught one while riding a wakeboard.

The catches were taped earlier in the week and the winner was decided by fan vote Sunday. Nacua clearly got the most support from the 55,709 in attendance.

Interestingly enough, catching is something Nacua wants to improve in his second season.

“Just recently learned I led the league in drops, so I guess that’s definitely something I could work on,” he said.

Nacua had nine drops, actually tied with three other players for second most in the NFL (the Miami Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill had 10), per ESPN Stats & Information.



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