The NFL has such a weird history of finding the best wide receiver talent in the most unexpected places. Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss, and Isaac Bruce represent four of the top-five players all-time in receiving yards, but they played their college ball at Mississippi Valley State, Chattanooga, Marshall, and Memphis, respectively.
It wasn’t as though their talent was surprising—Rice and Moss were first round picks, while Bruce just missed the cut, and T.O. went in round three—and their individual paths around major college football programs is of little consequence to their final NFL totals. But it goes to show that you can’t judge a prospect by the jersey he wears or even by the competition that he dominates before testing his skills against the best in the world.
These are doubts that Cooper Kupp had to answer for as he entered the 2017 NFL Draft as the “Jerry Rice” of FCS, which is quite a title given that Jerry Rice himself played at the FCS level. Kupp was even a recipient of the Jerry Rice Award during his tenure at Eastern Washington, and his dominance for the Eagles was unlike anything usually seen after players graduate from high school football.
Perhaps if he had put these stats up at Davis High School, Kupp would have had one college scholarship offer. Instead of...none.
With career-LOWS of 93 catches, 1,431 yards, and 16 touchdowns, Kupp’s four years at Eastern Washington were reminiscent of the type of unstoppable play that we have rarely seen at the NFL level, only flashed a few times in football history. Like Rice, Moss, or Calvin Johnson.
The argument is not unreasonable, and Kupp didn’t have the same exact physical profile that may have boosted the stock of someone like Randy Moss, but clearly there were layers to what made him so unbelievably productive in college. Qualities that could not be measured at the combine or a pro day, otherwise Cooper Kupp would’ve never been drafted after six other receivers: Corey Davis, Mike Williams, John Ross, Zay Jones, Curtis Samuel, and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Even the Rams graded Kupp only one round better than they did Josh Reynolds that same year.
For the first four years of his career, Kupp’s play and production made it obvious that he was a steal and that had he been given a Division-I scholarship offer, he would have been an All-American anywhere in the country. Kupp had 288 catches for 3,570 yards and 24 touchdowns over 54 games, missing half of 2018, but averaging 66 yards per game, a 71% catch rate, and 8.8 yards per target while catching passes from Jared Goff.
Those efforts were more than good enough to earn Kupp a three-year, $47.25 million extension with the Rams in 2020. But that contract salary would stop being reasonable as soon as Kupp got linked up with a quarterback who could consistently throw him the ball and became the focal point of the offense after a career spent as one-half of a receiving duo.
A year ago, Cooper Kupp’s placement on this list was that he definitely might be in the top-five. Now that he has found a way to translate his FCS success to the highest level of football, it’s a wonder how the reigning Offensive Player of the Year couldn’t be the first or second-most important player on any roster.
It’s only because the Rams have a championship roster that Kupp isn’t one or two on this list. But the Rams also wouldn’t have a “championship roster” right now if it wasn’t for Kupp.
If he repeats what he did in 2021, it might be because once again people are underrated Cooper Kupp based on circumstances that are outside of his control.
#3 - WR Cooper Kupp
Kupp was targeted 191 times by Matthew Stafford in 2021, which is 67 more targets than he had in 2020, and 57 more targets than his previous career-high with Goff. That’s why it is important to emphasize that a big reason why Kupp won the receiving triple-crown last season (145 catches, 1,947 yards, 16 TD) is that he did see a massive increase in volume.
But that is certainly not the whole story.
Kupp’s 76% catch rate was also a career-high even though the level of difficulty on those targets may have gone up, as Kupp was getting downfield at a career-high clip as well: His 8.6 average depth of target was 2.3 yards higher than his average in 2020. Only Justin Jefferson had more air yards before the catch (1,134 to 1,101), but Kupp also had an NFL-best 846 yards after the catch.
The only other player above 651 YAC (which was Ja’Marr Chase’s third-place total) was Deebo Sameul at 768. Only Samuel and CeeDee Lamb had more broken tackles than Kupp, among receivers. To be sure that all sides were happy, the Rams updated Kupp’s recent contract extension of $47 million over three years, to one that pays him $80.1 million over three years.
It’s interesting because even now after winning Offensive Player of the Year and leading the NFL in all those categories—at a time when passing the ball is supposed to be relatively easy and there are literally dozens of younger, faster, “more talented” receivers than Kupp—there are still those that doubt if he could actually be a top-three player on the Rams.
I guess doubt will always come with the territory with Kupp.
“If Kupp goes down, the Rams still have Allen Robinson.”
Most games with 100+ rec. yards since 2017— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) July 17, 2022
Davante Adams - 28
Travis Kelce - 27
Julio Jones - 25
DeAndre Hopkins - 25
Cooper Kupp - 24
Tyreek Hill - 22
Stefon Diggs - 22
Mike Evans - 21
Keenan Allen - 20
Michael Thomas - 20
Adam Thielen - 19
Antonio Brown - 18
Brandin Cooks - 18
Number one, Allen Robinson is nowhere near as good as Kupp. This would be like saying that if Matthew Stafford goes down, the Rams still have Jimmy Garoppolo (if the Rams actually had Jimmy Garoppolo). Robinson has missed significant time in three of the last four seasons. He’s a good receiver and in L.A.’s offense, maybe we will see an upgraded version of Robinson that we’ve never seen before.
But if he wasn’t playing alongside a receiver like Kupp, who will be sucking attention away from his side of the field and complementing his particular skills for a balanced passing attack, could you actually see Allen Robinson winning Offensive Player of the Year?
Most receiving yards in a season— NFL Stats (@NFL_Stats) July 22, 2022
Calvin Johnson - 1,964
Cooper Kupp - 1,947
Julio Jones - 1,871
Jerry Rice - 1,848
Antonio Brown - 1,834
Isaac Bruce - 1,781
Charley Hennigan - 1,746
Michael Thomas - 1,725
Marvin Harrison - 1,722
Number two, if the Rams had to play without Kupp and Robinson had to step up, who is going to step up for Robinson? As we saw over the course of literally the entire L.A. Rams’ season, wide receiver depth is so important and players at the position are getting injured at a higher rate than we recognize. Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, Ben Skowronek being counted on as the Rams’ 2-3-4 or potentially even as the 1-2-3, is a much different look without Cooper Kupp as the number one.
Stafford just had the best season of his career, not only statistically speaking, but also given that he is now a Super Bowl-winning quarterback getting Hall of Fame buzz. If he wins another Super Bowl, then Stafford will definitely be going to Canton.
Like the 2018 team stalling in the Super Bowl, could the Rams repeat without Cooper Kupp?
It’s fair to say that everyone in the top-four of this list is special and a necessary component to a Super Bowl repeat. Is it fair to keep Kupp behind the last two names remaining on this list, or is he getting a little disrespected again—just as he was overlooked in his recruiting class, in the 2017 draft, and before the 2021 season?
Which of these two All-Pro players is more important to the 2022 Rams?
This poll is closed