What if I told you there was a wide receiver prospect in this draft with more college receiving yards than Jerry Rice? He is fast, is a dynamic route-runner and set freshman FCS records with 93 catches and 21 touchdowns. To top that off, he had even more receptions in each of his next three seasons.
Meet Cooper Kupp. The Eastern Washington standout wide receiver was well-known before the Senior Bowl, but after a week in Mobile, Alabama, the small-school stud is no longer a secret.
How do NFL teams view the productive pass-catcher who had offers from just two schools—Eastern Washington and Idaho State—coming out of high school? Kupp's work ethic is renowned in scouting circles.
"He's a pro on and off the field. Aces across the board," one scout said.
The appeal to NFL teams isn't just what Kupp can do on the field but also the type of player he is off it. One NFL scout I spoke to said Kupp "knows how to be a professional" and "isn't someone we'll have to worry about."
Said one director of player personnel: "He's married, had a 3.6 GPA and scored a 37 on the Wonderlic. What more do you need to know?"
Kupp comes from a small town in Washington called Yakima, where there were two high schools. One, Davis High, was known "more for violence and gang activity than football," Kupp told me. That's the one he enrolled in along with a group of friends who "wanted to change the culture there but also change the community." They also wanted to end a long history of losing seasons. They did it.
"I think a year or two ago, I heard [Davis] has an enrollment of 700 students now compared to 200 at the other school, so you can see how that perception changed," Kupp said.
Scouts love bloodlines, and Kupp has that going for him, too. His grandfather, Jake, is a member of the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame. His father, Craig, didn't find the same NFL success but did make the league as a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys and Phoenix Cardinals in 1991 before becoming a high school football coach. Both of Cooper's parents—Craig and Karin—were inducted into the Pacific Lutheran University Hall of Fame, he for football and she for soccer.
Any time Kupp's name comes up, scouts and coaches start by talking off-the-field credentials. Scouts crave a lack of worry at the wide receiver position, and when it comes to his play on the field, they draw big comparisons.
"The route running is really developed," one scout said. "You watch him explode off the line, and he sinks his hips so well. I've never seen him not ready for the ball. There's some Jordy [Nelson] there, but the better comparison is Nuk [DeAndre Hopkins], because he's not the fastest guy but still separates well."
Not being the fastest guy is the elephant in the room. Kupp is white, so many will compare him to Chris Hogan or Julian Edelman before watching him play.
"The school didn't give us great numbers for his athletic tests, so obviously that'll be huge for my grade," one scout told me.
Be prepared for all the cliches about "quicker than he is fast" and "deceptively fast" when Kupp takes the field in Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine, but teams are heavily invested in how well he'll run and test on the track.
One scout estimated Kupp as a "mid-4.4" guy, but that was the most optimistic number I got.
Said another: "Closer to 4.6 is what I'd guess, but he did cut weight and may come in faster than we expect. If he runs 4.4, he's going in the first round."
|Cooper Kupp Career Receiving Stats|
On the phone Tuesday night, Kupp said he didn't cut weight but that he's dropped weight as a by-product of his combine training regimen. His goal? To run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash.
How will he overcome the perceptions and labels?
"In my mind, I don't think of myself as 'deceptively fast' or 'sneaky athletic,'" Kupp said. "I believe I'm an elite athlete. Being able to go down to the Senior Bowl, I had the opportunity for people to see me alongside what they perceive as a top-tier athlete. So for me to have that opportunity to be around that, and for them to see me on the same field beside those guys, helps to open eyes."
It certainly did, as Kupp walked away as my award-winner for Most Impressive Wide Receiver.
Where Kupp will be drafted has been a season-long topic of conversation, and fans from receiver-needy teams are eyeing the production and NFL readiness he brings to the table. In a poll of eight NFL executives, Kupp's average draft position was the mid- to late-second round. But in a receiver class that lacks top-end depth, Kupp could rise.
The combine will be huge for Kupp's draft stock, even after he dominated the FCS for four seasons with 428 receptions, over 6,400 yards and a ridiculous 73 touchdowns.
Said one scout: "What you want to see is all there on film, but can he separate from our coverages? That's where testing is important."
There is no magic number Kupp must run to become a first- or second-round pick, but scouts want to see him in the 4.4-4.5 range. After what he's shown on the field and what he did during the week of practice at the Senior Bowl, nothing is impossible.