Cooper Kupp's Historic 2021 Season Makes Him NFL's Best WR

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2021

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp runs with the ball after making a catch against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

Nearly everything about the ongoing historic season for Los Angeles Rams wideout Cooper Kupp points to his being the NFL's best player at his position.

The conversation has to start with the sheer numbers. Over 13 appearances and 151 targets so far, Kupp has 1,489 receiving yards on 113 catches with 12 touchdowns. Those are all tops in the NFL as he paces to be the first triple-crown wideout since Steve Smith in 2005. 

Kupp is more than 200 yards above the next wideout on the league-leaders list (Justin Jefferson, 1,288), blows the next name in receptions out of the water (Chris Godwin, 92) and has one more receiving score than Mike Evans (11) as one of only four targets with double-digit touchdowns so far. He's picked up 70 first downs, claiming first place ahead of a trio of names tied at 61. He's first in yards per game (114.5) and yards after the catch (647). 

It isn't just individual players he's beating out, too, since he has more receiving yards than every receiver on the Philadelphia Eagles roster combined. And as ESPN's Field Yates pointed out, his numbers in fantasy football surpass all but a guy by the name of Jerry Rice:

Field Yates @FieldYates

Cooper Kupp is currently on pace for: - 148 catches - 1,947 receiving yards - 16 TD He's averaging 25.80 fantasy points per game. The only receiver to ever average more in a full 16 (or 17) game season is Jerry Rice with 25.88 in 1995. Kupp is unreal.

Kupp hit 90-plus receiving yards in his ninth consecutive game Monday against the Arizona Cardinals to tie himself with Michael Irvin (1995) and Odell Beckham Jr. (2014) for the longest streak in 70 years, per NFL.com

If this were a 16-game season, Kupp would be on pace for roughly 1,800 yards and 17 touchdowns, which would be one of the best seasons by a wideout ever. But a 17-game schedule has him on pace for 148 receptions, 1,950 yards and 18 scores, putting him in range for the historic 1,964 yards set by Calvin Johnson in 2012. 

Want to talk narratives? In Monday's win over Arizona on the road in primetime, Kupp faced off with a Cardinals team that held him to five catches and 64 yards, both season lows, back in a Week 4 Rams loss. 

Kupp erupted in the return game, catching a single-game career-high 13 passes for 123 yards and one touchdown. It dismantled any notion that the Cardinals had his number, and more importantly it was a showcase for Kupp's status as football's most versatile receiver on a national stage: 

Next Gen Stats @NextGenStats

Cooper Kupp reeled in a career-high 13 receptions for 123 yards and a TD in the #Rams 30-23 victory over the Cardinals. Kupp became the first player in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016) to have a reception from all seven pre-snap alignments in a game. #LARvsAZ | #RamsHouse https://t.co/MXovMj41g5

Kupp lines up where he wants, when he wants and does pretty much whatever he wants. He's a chess piece for Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford that pretty much no other team boasts—which would explain why all Rams quarterbacks have a 121.0 rating when targeting him this season. 

Detractors may point to the benefit of playing in a McVay-directed offense, and Stafford has been a dramatic upgrade under center over former starter Jared Goff. The addition of Beckham to the offense certainly hasn't hurt Kupp's chances at putting up big numbers, either. 

But those same points surround others in the conversation over the league's best receiver, though. Adams gets to play with Aaron Rodgers. Godwin, Tom Brady and Evans. Justin Jefferson has Dalvin Cook in the backfield and Adam Thielen at wideout drawing attention. 

The Rams haven't had a terrifying threat at running back nor tight end all season. DeSean Jackson played just seven games. Beckham's played in just four. Robert Woods made it in nine. And Stafford has still hit three other targets with 60-plus targets, so it's remarkable Kupp has been able to compile the stats he has, including Week 14's explosion coming after he had been listed with a toe injury all week leading up to the game. 

Kupp's season feels like a natural progression for his career trajectory. His yards per catch this season (13.2) isn't that dramatically higher than his career average (12.6). He scored 10 touchdowns in 2019 over 16 games, and his catch percentage of 74.8 isn't much better than last year (74.2). That an improved quarterback situation boosted his stats isn't necessarily a stunner, even if he's due for a statistical regression in upcoming seasons. 

There isn't an offense in the NFL that wouldn't be dramatically improved with the addition of Kupp. A big-armed Stafford has helped show off Kupp's ability to beat defenses, but his own development from predominant slot receiver into matchup nightmare has helped him transform into the league's best receiver. 

Call Kupp the best of all worlds. For the stat fiends, he's a dream come true. Ditto for those who value analytics and obsess over the film. Kupp is the most impactful player at his position, and both the numbers and film back it up in 2021.