If Cooper Kupp is not a top-25 wide receiver right now, then the LA Rams should take until next year to decide if he’s worth a contract that pays him like a top-25 receiver. Kupp, who will become a free agent in March and then turn 28 in June, could be looking for an extension that pays him like a top-10 player at his position.
What does that cost and is Kupp worth either of those figures?
ProFootballFocus recently ranked Rams receiver Robert Woods as the 17th-best receiver headed into the 2020 season. Making no mention of Kupp, they had this to say about Woods, who has two years left on his contract:
Woods has thrived in his three years with the Rams, earning the 11th-best receiving grade at the position since 2017. He has dropped just seven of his 259 catchable targets in that span, though the best thing he brings to the table is his route-running. He generates an exceptional rate of separation, and that’s helped him pick up the sixth-most explosive plays of 15-plus yards since 2017 (86). Woods has been a consistently great receiving option for the Rams, and that should continue in 2020.
Woods makes $6.8 million per year on the five-year deal he signed in 2017, making him one of the best bargains in the NFL. That only ranks as the 37th-highest salary for receivers. Could LA hope to be that lucky with Kupp? Could they be that lucky with Woods again?
The 25th-highest paid receiver in the NFL headed into 2020 by salary is Jamison Crowder of the New York Jets at $9.5 million per season, according to OvertheCap.com. Crowder didn’t have half the resume that Kupp has as a pass-catcher, but he was smart enough to deal with the Jets front office in negotiations and cashed in anyway.
The six names ahead of Crowder are Robby Anderson, DeVante Parker, Sterling Shepard, Tyler Lockett, Tyler Boyd, and Tyrell Williams.
Doesn’t Kupp have a better case than at least most, if not all of those players too? Since entering the league in 2017, Kupp ranks 12th in touchdowns, 23rd in receiving yards and 24th in receptions despite missing nine games. His 9.17 yards per target ranks 12th and his 69.3-percent catch rate ranks 18th, tied with Zach Ertz and .01 behind Travis Kelce.
Of the names I just mentioned — Crowder, Anderson, Parker, Shepard, Lockett, Boyd, and Williams — none rank ahead of Kupp in a single one of those categories mentioned in that time period other than Lockett’s yards per target and catch rate, which are comparable.
So what’s PFF’s issue and why does Kupp only rank 18th in DYAR and 30th in DVOA by FootballOutsiders last season?
The FootballOutsiders question could simply be that the Rams didn’t have as many key winnable moments as they did the two years prior, with fewer opportunities to add value and Estimated Points in each game; Woods only ranked 43rd in DYAR and 51st in DVOA last season.
As to PFF, I can’t say.
By comparison, they had Football Team’s Terry McLaurin ranked 13th after only one season in the NFL. They had Adam Thielen 14th even though they noted his down season and PFF grade of 78, only slightly better than the 74.6 they gave to Kupp. (I only note the grades for reference to their opinions, not as an indication that they matter outside of PFF’s walls.)
20-25 were: Lockett, A.J. Green, who missed all of last season, Parker, D.J. Moore, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Larry Fitzgerald. Are any of the veteran names like Green or Fitzgerald or Smith-Schuster coming off of a wash-away season without Ben Roethlisberger, meant to be “safer” than Kupp?
Since 1970, only one player has ever had three campaigns of at least 90 targets and 8.5 yards per target in each of his first three seasons, and that player is Randy Moss. Only 24 others have had two such seasons in the first three years and among them are Isaac Bruce, Terrell Owens, Torry Holt, Fitzgerald, Brandin Cooks, Tyreek Hill, Julio Jones, George Kittle, Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Chad Johnson, Odell Beckham, Jr, and Kupp, among a few others who were mostly all pretty good to great.
Kupp is among those 25 names but not these 25 names.
He will also likely be among the top 25 names in wide receiver salary by 2021, potentially reaching or surpassing the $16.2 million AAV of Thielen, which would put him in the top 10.
To look at Kupp, I wouldn’t say that the Rams have a top-25 receiver. I’d say they have two.