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Rams Reflections: Dissecting Cooper Kupp’s ‘fluky’ 2021 season

A deeper dive into the greatest season ever by a wide receiver

NFL: Super Bowl LVI-Los Angeles Rams at Cincinnati Bengals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Once the dust settled on the 2021 Los Angeles Rams season, it was clear that wide receiver Cooper Kupp had finally ascended to superstardom. In reality, LA fans knew it would only be a matter of time before the media gave the Eastern Washington product his due. After missing out on the Super Bowl in the 2018 campaign, Kupp was determined not to let another Lombardi Trophy slip from his fingertips.

Kupp’s breathtaking ‘21 is considered one of the best, if not the best season by a receiver in NFL history. That dream turned into a nightmare the following year when Kupp missed the final eight games with an ankle injury, denying LA a chance to win back-to-back titles. Okay, the Rams were never that close to repeating but bear with me here. The sequel was never the quality of the original, which led some to believe the success was fluky to begin with.

That’s what I’ll be attempting to either prove or disprove. For the sake of this site, I better be disproving that notion or I can probably never wear my Kupp jersey in public again. The heat is on!

Comparing eras: Jared Goff vs Matthew Stafford

Cooper Kupp was taken in the third round of the 2017 draft and proved his potential as a solid contributor right away.

The following season, LA made it all the way to the Super Bowl only Kupp wasn’t part of it due to tearing his ACL in a Week 10 win over Seattle. He roared back with a vengeance in 2019 by putting together his first campaign of over 1,000 receiving yards. Even with his individual success, there was a glaring issue for the budding star. Kupp’s problem from 2017-20 was that he had Jared Goff as his QB.

Compared to Matthew Stafford, Goff is very limited and at times, timid while attempting to push the ball downfield. I had noted this myself in an article I wrote after Stafford’s debut with the Rams. The offense wasn’t all that explosive with Goff at the helm and that much was evident during his final year in Hollywood. LA totaled just six passing plays of 40-plus yards in 2020, eighth-worst in the NFL. Kupp suffered greatly as he had career-lows in touchdown receptions (3) and yards per reception (10.6).

Once the Rams traded for Stafford that offseason, the entire dynamic of the offense changed and Kupp cashed in now that his QB was no longer holding him back. Kupp tied his touchdown mark in all of 2020 after just two games.

Of his 145 receptions in 2021, 89 of them went for first downs, easily shattering his previous career-high of 51 in ‘19. Kupp was the offense’s security blanket with Stafford at the helm and nothing about his role changed once defenses zeroed in on him more. Stafford was the best thing to ever happen to Kupp. The veteran quarterback has made it a career knowing how to utilize all the weapons at his disposal. The Eastern Washington star became a household name in large part because he had a QB that could help him realize his potential in all facets of his game. A star was born that season and they rest they say is history.

The Kupp hath runneth over in a big way

Anytime a player is mentioned in the same breath as Jerry Rice, you know they had a season for the ages.

Throughout the season, it was inevitable that Kupp and the 49ers legend would be forever linked in football immortality. Not that they’re anywhere close to being the same player because that argument would be laughable. Rice is the GOAT at his position and one of the greatest football players ever. Kupp has always been a solid player but was obviously nowhere close to approaching Rice, up until he was posting similar elite numbers halfway through ‘21.

Kupp came 53 yards shy of becoming the first receiver to ever reach 2,000 yards in the regular season. He was a 17-yard Stafford completion away from tying Calvin Johnson’s 2012 single-season mark of 1,964. Also, Kupp was one of three players (Marvin Harrison and Michael Thomas) to catch over 140 passes in a season, finishing four receptions shy of Thomas’ record total of 149 from 2019. It’s no wonder that at the time, Kupp joined Rice and Thomas as the only wide receivers to win Offensive Player of the Year honors. Yes, Justin Jefferson won the award last season but I’m not counting the ‘22 season for the sake of my argument. Reading comprehension is key folks.

Now let’s get into the postseason where Kupp continued his All-Pro play. If MVP votes were counted after the playoffs, the Rams’ receiver would’ve prevented Aaron Rodgers from winning his second-straight. Unlike Rodgers, Kupp stepped up when it mattered and most importantly, actually beat those damned Niners! The LA star finished second all-time in receiving yards for a single postseason behind Larry Fitzgerald. That is a category where Kupp actually beat Rice as the most the HOFer ever had in a playoff run was 409 in 1988, the fourth-most ever.

Despite Fitzgerald having the most touchdowns in a single postseason run with seven, they weren’t enough as he was unable to deliver a Super Bowl win over the Steelers. Rice and Kupp might have one less score but their teams were able to deliver in the clutch. No disrespect intended towards the Cardinals legend as we all remember he delivered in crunch time until his defense let him down in the final minutes.

In total, Kupp finished the 2021 season 331 yards ahead of Jefferson and 22 receptions ahead of Davante Adams. His 16 touchdown receptions were the most of any triple crown winner since the merger. Including the playoffs, Kupp has the most receptions (178), yardage (2,245) and the second-most touchdowns (22) in a single campaign behind only Randy Moss in 2007. This stat is also ridiculous so I’ll let it speak for itself:

“He had 90-plus receiving yards in 16 of 17 games in 2021, including 13 straight contests — the longest streak in NFL history.” per CBS Sports

One could argue that Johnson’s 2012 season should be considered more impressive than it was as he did it on a 4-12 disaster of a Lions team rather than a Super Bowl caliber squad. Stafford was his quarterback then and maybe he decided to pay it back in LA with Kupp. No one can ever take 2021 away from Kupp and it’ll be a hard act to top.

Final Verdict

After carefully examining the evidence, I wouldn’t deem Kupp’s 2021 campaign to be a fluke. So for those keeping track, the Internet trolls have been vanquished at least on this topic. Wonder what they would have to say about Stafford’s Hall of Fame consideration next. Ah well, better save that argument for a rainy day.

Kupp became a more dangerous player with Stafford as his quarterback and LA’s offense was reaping the benefits during that magical title run. In ‘22, he was working his way towards winning the triple crown again before his injury in Week 10. Heading into that matchup with Arizona, Kupp was beating the eventual OPOY in receptions (72-59) and touchdowns (6-3). At the time of his injury, he was second in the league in receptions behind Tyreek Hill’s 76 and fourth in receiving yards.

The league knew where LA was going with the ball at all times and still couldn’t slow him down. Kupp was having the ball force-fed to him and he made the most of his opportunities each and every week.

“Entering Week 10, Kupp accounted for 35.7% of the Rams’ catches this season, which is the highest mark by any player in the league. He entered the game with 72 receptions, for a pace of 153 over a 17-game season, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.” per ESPN

As expected, the Rams suffered on offense as a result of Kupp’s absence. Despite playing only nine games, Kupp still led the team in most significant receiving categories. That should tell you about the lack of depth LA had in the receiving room last season. Without the injury, Kupp probably would’ve been close to winning the triple crown yet again. Very few in the media seem to acknowledge that as other dynamic playmakers have passed by the All-Pro.

It’ll be fascinating to see how the Rams and Kupp rebound in 2023. No matter what happens this year, always bet against Cooper Kupp at your own peril. You never know when he might replicate that magic we all know he’s capable of.