Cooper Kupp Doesn’t Even Come Close to Best Receiver in NFL

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Despite his dominance, Cooper Kupp is not yet the best WR in the NFL.

Despite his dominance, Cooper Kupp is not yet the best WR in the NFL.
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I know he had a great, arguably perfect year, but let’s talk about Cooper Kupp being the best receiver in the game.

There’s a reason Jerry Rice is considered the greatest receiver of all time. The distance between Rice and the No. 2 receiver ever, Larry Fitzgerald, is 5,403 meters – about the same distance between Fitzgerald and No. 27, Hines Ward. Rice wasn’t the fastest, or the strongest man there was, but damn, no one could do as much as he could. Rice performed at that elite level year after year. Cooper Kupp has done it once and that’s not enough to call him the best receiver in the league.

There are other receivers that are faster and stronger, run better routes and have better hands. Objectively speaking, Davante Adams, Justin Jefferson, DeAndre Hopkins and maybe even guys like Keenan Allen and AJ Brown are better in most if not all of those categories. But that’s not my point. So why don’t they post comparable numbers? Why haven’t they been able to reach 1,900 yards and lead the league in touchdowns during the regular season? Then we get to the real crux of the case against Kupp.

Kupp does not face the opponent’s top corners. During the 2021 regular season, Kupp . will lined up in the groove or tight against the line 806 times. The largest total by a wide, wide margin. While other great receivers like Justin Jefferson are also in the slot quite a few (437 times), Jefferson has proven himself on the outside. In the limited amount of time spent in the slot last year, Jefferson outperformed Kupp in terms of statistics.

Let’s take a look at their blind resumes in the lock. I’m going to offer averages, not totals, because obviously Kupp has better numbers overall because he spent nearly 400 more snaps in the slot of tight than Jefferson did.

WR1: 18.06 yds/rec, 6.71 rec/TD

WR2: 13.77 yds/rec, 8.54 rec/TD

In case you couldn’t tell based on the story I’m clearly trying to push, Jefferson is WR1 and Kupp is WR2. There are several other factors that come into play, such as the average depth of the target, the quality of the target and the target’s proportion when lined up in the slot, but from a basic statistical standpoint, which is exactly how the Most Kupp defenders like to see things, Jefferson has the edge over Kupp when aligning in the slot.

To be fair, Kupp had better hands in the slot. Both guys had three drops in the slot all year, but Kupp had his three drops on hundreds of other slot alignments. Kupp also received tons of goals because of his chemistry with quarterback Matthew Stafford. You could see on several of their connections this year that Stafford would just throw the ball into an empty space before Kupp turned around to find the ball, and Stafford just trusted Kupp to be there. That requires a phenomenal amount of confidence in your receiver and Stafford won’t make those throws if he doesn’t think Kupp is talented enough to get them.

That said, what are the chances that Kupp will be able to create space like he does when pitted against elite cornerbacks? Probably still good, but definitely not as high. Sean McVay literally designs plays and moves to get Kupp in the best matchup possible because he knows that Kupp is really good in the open space and if they can make a matchup that allows Kupp to escape he will be dangerous. Essentially, he needs Kupp to compete against lesser competition for his system to work. That’s a great offensive spirit that makes a great receiver even better, but it doesn’t mean Kupp is the best wide receiver in football.

What were Kupp’s best moves in the postseason? Probably those touchdowns in the Super Bowl and that huge Divisional Round win against Tampa Bay to set up the winning field goal, right? Who was he standing in line against at those plays? I will answer for you. In the Super Bowl it was Eli Apple. On that game in the division round it was a safety, Antoine Winfield Jr.

I’m not denying his ability to make those guys look crazy, but these are guys he should be able to thrive against. It is expected of someone of Kupp’s talent. Protections aren’t for man-to-man coverage, but the Bucs decided that would be the best way to defend the NFL leader at receptions, yards, and touchdowns. That’s just bad game planning.

A great receiver can make the best turns fall over with remarkable route running and the ability to make circus catches when their team needs them. Kupp does not compete against the best corners. That doesn’t mean Kupp isn’t great. I still consider him top three in the league, top five at worst, and he should be the first wide receiver off everyone’s board next year during the fantasy draft season. However, we can’t compare Kupp’s stats to other recipients because, as I’ve explained, when other great recipients are put in the same situations as Kupp, they usually do just as well.

Maybe after another season of absolute dominance from Kupp I’ll be willing to put him on my list, but until then he’ll have to settle for a place just behind Adams and Jefferson.

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