As Cooper Kupp sat with his friends and family on Day 2 of the 2017 NFL draft, he was waiting to hear his name called. He had no way of knowing that a quarterback he met while training for predraft events would alter his future.
Kupp left Eastern Washington after his senior season, having won awards named after Jerry Rice (FCS Freshman of the Year) and Walter Payton (FCS Most Outstanding Offensive Player) and with the record for most receptions, yards and touchdowns in FCS history. Kupp was no secret to NFL teams, but there were concerns about his lack of top-end speed and where he would fit into a pro-style offense.
Throughout the predraft process of the Senior Bowl, NFL scouting combine and pro day workouts, NFL scouts raved privately about the readiness and intelligence of Kupp, whose father and grandfather played in the NFL.
“You could tell from talking to him for five minutes that he gets it. He’s one of the smartest receivers I’ve ever talked to” is how one area scout described Kupp. He had his fans in draft rooms across the league, but he was about to win over another group of important people who could impact his draft stock—NFL quarterbacks.
Leaving Eastern, Kupp decided to sign with Rep1 Sports for representation. The decision would ultimately tie him to another of the firm’s clients, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff, whom he met at the Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals game in early January after signing with the agency.
In training sessions during the months following the NFL season, Goff and Kupp threw together “a handful of times," according to Chase Callahan of Rep1. Just like Carson Wentz and Mack Hollins in Philadelphia or Ben Roethlisberger and James Conner in Pittsburgh, the two clicked and connected while training at the Rep1 facility this offseason. It would leave Goff hoping his Rams would land Kupp in the draft.
Goff’s connection and recommendation of Kupp wasn’t the only one, though. Multiple teams contacted for this story said the quarterbacks they talked to at the Senior Bowl were going to bat for Kupp in formal and informal interviews. “Everyone loved the kid," said one scout who was in Mobile, Alabama, for the event.
Kupp would eventually hear his name called in the third round of the draft, at No. 69 overall, and find himself reunited with his old Rep1 throwing buddy. The connection between Goff and Kupp is already showing up in camp.
A Rams source, who asked to not be named in this piece, said Kupp has been “the team’s best receiver” so far in camp. Better than Robert Woods, who was handed a five-year, $34 million contract this offseason. Said the source, “Kupp gives us the ability to play him in the slot or outside. Which gives Tavon [Austin] flexibility. It’s a good problem to have.” And with Austin sidelined at OTAs, Kupp has impressed.
Throughout rookie minicamp, Kupp was the star. Rich Hammond of the Los Angeles Daily News reported Kupp was “the star" of this month’s Rams camp, and head coach Sean McVay praised Kupp as “a guy that consistently showed up," according to Jim Allen of the Spokesman-Review. Following camp, offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur told Myles Simmons of the team website, "...he’s a pro and you can see that. He came in here not like most rookies do.” As Kupp works at receiver and punt returner, it’s clear the team feels like it has a potential impact player.
How good can Kupp be right out of the gate for a Rams offense that desperately needs wide receiver help? "He could lead this team in receptions and I wouldn’t be surprised," said the Rams source. Expectations are high for the third-rounder. NFL Network analyst Peter Schrager predicted Kupp would lead all rookies in receptions with over 70 catches. That’s a high number for a rookie, especially with a developing quarterback, but Kupp was graded by our NFL Draft 400 team with the best hands in the class.
Much of Kupp’s success will be determined by the progress Jared Goff makes in year two—and vice versa. Already reports are coming out of Los Angeles about Goff’s easy transition learning this offense, how he’s bigger and stronger and becoming more of a leader. Every quarterback needs a safety valve, and the relationship on and off the field between Goff and Kupp could make them a very productive duo for the Rams in 2017.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.