I have long loved statistics and my obsession with “the numbers” was truly step one towards my career as a sports writer. However, stats have since been warped in such a way as to often make them misleading at best and flat out misinformation and lying at worst.
That does not make statistics useless. It does not render those who self-describe as “analytics experts” worthless. Stats do have value. But it’s important for fans to have an awareness that others can use statistics to backup baseless arguments rather than simply using their eyes and brains while actually watching football.
I’ll give you an example.
It’s easy to make a statistical argument that Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen was the best quarterback in the NFL in 2021. All you have to do for any of them is highlight the numbers that help, ignore the numbers that hurt.
Brady led the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns. Ignore that he’s a single-threat quarterback, unlike Allen or Lamar Jackson.
Rodgers led the NFL in QBR and only threw four interceptions. Ignore that he’s sixth in Y/A.
Joe Burrow led the NFL in completion percentage and Y/A. Ignore that he had 14 interceptions.
Allen is “the most dangerous player in the league!” Ignore that he was 24th in completion percentage and tied for third (behind Matthew Stafford and Trevor Lawrence) in interceptions.
What’s the real answer? The real answer is that they’re all quarterbacks that most franchises would love to have as their starter, including Stafford. We need to take all of their statistics into account and there is no one number that’s ever going to be an end-all, be-all answer as to who is the best.
But that’s only the start of the example. Where it really gets confusing for a lot of fans is that even though there might only be a dozen really good quarterbacks in the NFL at any given time, it’s EASY to find statistics to make an argument for at least 40 of them to be starting right now.
Thanks to Twitter, you don’t have to look far for someone to mention that “Gardner Minshew’s passer rating is better than most starters!” and “Tua Tagovailoa is top-20 in QBR!” and “Jalen Hurts did a pass/rush yards combo that nobody has done before!”
Yeah, but we can also see them play, right?
We can also use logic to determine that if teams keep moving you around or staying on the bench, that’s not a good sign that you are a “franchise quarterback,” right?
There are few great players at any given position, that’s what makes them great, but statistics can be bent, manipulated, and altered to make almost any argument that you need to make. What I loved about statistics early on was that they seemed to make the game more clear by showing us parts of the game that we could not see on film.
Now many people are using statistics hoping that we don’t even watch the film at all.
Luckily for the football players who are the best at their jobs, this does not really matter. Splitting hairs over Brady, Rodgers, Mahomes, and Allen is just that: Nitpicking the differences but knowing that the eventual outcome is a top-five player at his position. Whether you’re watching film, pouring over the stats, or reading personal anecdotes and accounts of him, the result is usually the same.
And for the Los Angeles Rams, everyone knows by now that Cooper Kupp has an argument to be at least as good as any other wide receiver in the NFL. And that’s whether you’re talking about what you see in the games or what his total numbers are at this point in his career.
Kupp was so dominant in 2021 that he’s practically just as dominant over the last three seasons combined.
Since 2019, here are Cooper Kupp’s rankings in the NFL:
- 4,082 yards (1st)
- 331 catches (1st)
- 29 touchdowns (t5th)
- 449 targets (2nd)
- 73.7% catch rate (4th among WR)
- 9.1 Y/Target (t12th)
- 19 100-yard games (2nd. Davante Adams has 20, but Kupp has five more than third-place)
- Games with a TD (t2nd, 1 behind Mike Evans)
- Games with 100 yards+1 TD (t1st with Adams)
- Games with 8+ catches (2nd, 1 behind Keenan Allen)
However, Kupp has also played in six playoff games over the last three years, meaning he’s put in even more work on the field than all of his counterparts other than only a couple. Kupp has played in 53 games since 2019, which is only surpassed (minimum 200 targets) by the 58 games of Mecole Hardman, the 56 games of tight end Travis Kelce, and the 55 games of Stefon Diggs.
For the last three years, including playoffs, Kupp is neck and neck with Kelce:
- Kupp: 500 targets, 368 rec, 4,638 yards, 35 TD, 73.6% catch, 9.3 Y/T
- Kelce: 504 targets, 367 rec, 4,636 yards, 35 TD, 72.8% catch, 9.2 Y/T
As a bonus, Kupp was the 69th pick in the third round of his draft, Kelce was the 63rd pick in the third round of his draft class in 2013.
Last season, Cooper Kupp also ranked first in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement over at FootballOutsiders, ranking WAY ahead of Davante Adams: 618 DYAR vs 423 DYAR for Adams.
That’s not even including the fact that Kupp caught 33 passes for 478 yards and six touchdowns in the playoffs.
This is when stats become “cool” again. When players don’t just give you reasons to argue why they might be “the 23rd-best player at his position” instead of being ranked as the 28th, but instead do things on the field that we’ve never seen before and then stats just confirm what we were seeing with our eyeballs.
We already knew that Kupp was as good as any receiver in the NFL last season. We can all assume that given his consistency (attributing his breakout to an upgrade at quarterback, for one), Kupp will also be one of the top-five receivers in the NFL next season, too.
I love when stats are used to blow our minds. I hate when stats are used to trick our minds. Kupp is the former.