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Showdown: Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods

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Good news: The Rams get to have both next season again

Indianapolis Colts v Los Angeles Ram Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Though they joined the LA Rams the same year, one as a graduate of Eastern Washington and the other a four-year graduate from Bills University, Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are only separated by one year. This is something that many Rams fans are likely aware of by now, Woods was born only 14 months ahead of Kupp, but it can be difficult to not fall into the trap of believing that the former is much closer to “washed up” than the latter.

I know of no evidence to suggest such a thing as even probable.

Though Woods has more NFL “miles” on him now, it wasn’t as though Kupp wasn’t playing himself down to every last drop of energy from 2013-2016 himself. Let’s keep in mind that Kupp has almost 1,200 more receiving yards than any other player in college football history and 29 more catches than second-place. Ever.

Obviously he wasn’t tackled a lot but Kupp ran up and down football fields more than any other player in the college game and then he was drafted in the third round by the Rams. Through three seasons he has been mostly fantastic, breaking out in 2019 for 94 receptions, 1,161 yards, 10 touchdowns, 8.7 yards per target, but with three fumbles.

His numbers were nearly matched by Woods — in most respects.

Woods had his first 100-target season in 2014 with the Buffalo Bills, catching 65 of 104 for 699 yards and five touchdowns while playing with quarterbacks Kyle Orton and E.J. Manuel. His head coach was Doug Marrone and his offensive coordinator was Nathaniel Hackett, who most recently was the OC for the 2019 Green Bay Packers under former LA assistant Matt LaFleur.

LaFleur was the Rams OC in 2017 when they signed Woods and drafted Kupp.

But having missed some time with injury during LaFleur’s only season as Sean McVay’s offensive coordinator, Woods didn’t enjoy his greatest career successes until each of the last two years. He set career-highs in 2018 with 1,219 yards, six touchdowns, and 9.4 yards per target and he was nearly as exceptional last season but dropped off slightly.

Woods caught 90 of 139 targets for 1,134 yards, two touchdowns, 8.2 yards per target, while also rushing it 17 times for 115 yards and a touchdown. That’s another element added since LaFleur left as Woods had 19 rushes for 157 yards and a touchdown in 2018.

The pair put up rather identical numbers in 2019 (Woods in one fewer game) with Kupp proving to be a bit more of a scoring threat in the last three seasons (21 touchdowns to 15) but Woods having a rushing threat and not fumbling the ball. The Rams also have decisions ahead on both.

Kupp will be a free agent for the first time in 2021. Woods has two years left on the bargain contract he signed in 2017 and extending Kupp could signal that there’s not going to be room in the budget for him again. Or they could extend Woods, see if that helps them navigate what room they have to keep Kupp in the fold as well.

The decision may not be as easy as “Who is younger?” either.

What if you had asked this same question about Cris Carter and Jake Reed on the 1994 Minnesota Vikings? Carter was 29, Reed was 27. Carter was a former UDFA who didn’t post his first 1,000-yard season until the year before, Reed was a former third round pick who looked ready to capitalize on his talents finally. Their numbers in 1994:

  • Carter caught 122 of 188 targets for 1,256 yards and seven touchdowns
  • Reed caught 85 of 161 targets for 1,175 yards and four touchdowns

It’s so much easier to answer “Carter” now than it would have been then. They weren’t looking at targets, catch rate, yards per target, and advanced stats. He was almost 30, Reed was only in his fourth NFL season.

Reed posted three more seasons in a row over 1,100 yards but he was never named to a Pro Bowl. His last really productive campaign was 1997. Carter led the NFL in touchdown catches in 1995, 1997, and 1999, made eight straight Pro Bowls, and was last really productive in 2000, though he wasn’t too bad in 2001.

Just that one example? I don’t think so. What if you talked to someone about Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell in 1997?

  • Jimmy Smith: 28 years old, 82 of 152 targets, 1,324 yards, 4 TD, 8.7 Y/T
  • Keenan McCardell: 27 years old, 85 of 129 targets, 1,164 yards, 5 TD, 9 Y/T

Who do you choose?

Smith was a former second round pick but an immediate bust for the Dallas Cowboys, catching zero passes in his first three years. His breakout came in 1996 with Jacksonville and then he had that season in 1997.

McCardell was a former 12th round pick who also did very little, in his case while playing for Bill Belichick and the Cleveland Browns. He and Smith both got themselves going in ‘96 with the Jags. But McCardell’s production fluctuated while Smith very consistently put up numbers, efficiently so, all with the Jaguars. He did so until 2005, when he was 36. McCardell was actually pretty good in 2005, when he was 35, but he wasn’t that good in 2002, 2004, 2006 ...

Smith would’ve been the better choice.

That’s not to say that Robert Woods has a brighter future than Cooper Kupp. Nobody can predict what will happen between these two players. They could both have 5+ more years of high productivity. These are just a couple of examples of why you should not immediately default to what is “obvious.”

It is rarely obvious.

Which player had the better 2019? Which player will have the better 2020? Which player would be most important for the Rams to focus on keeping long-term?

Poll

Vote however you want to vote

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Robert Woods
    (70 votes)
  • 61%
    Cooper Kupp
    (114 votes)
184 votes total Vote Now