Los Angeles Rams’ receiver Cooper Kupp is on pace for 1,964 yards in 17 games. The all-time single-season record for receiving yards is, in fact, that same 1,964, and was set in 2012 by former Detroit Lions’ receiver Calvin Johnson.
That year, Megatron played in just 16 games, and recorded 122 receptions — but only five touchdowns. Kupp, on the other hand, is on pace for 134 receptions and 21 touchdowns. Yes, he’ll be playing one more game than Megatron did, but Kupp would still surpass the Hall of Famer in receptions by a slight margin and in touchdowns by a country mile if the season was still 16 games long.
Those raw numbers have some people thinking that Cooper Kupp is the best receiver in the NFL. Surely, his rank near the top of the league in almost every major receiving category can only mean that he’s the best of the best, right?
And sure, I can see the argument being made for why he’s the best in the league, but think about how that makes the wide receiver position look?
Before this season, Kupp was never considered the top receiver in the league. He wasn’t even considered top-20. Now, all of a sudden, he’s the unquestionable best receiver after being just “solid” for the first four years of his career? Hmmm, I wonder what could’ve changed?
Oh, I know! How about the guy throwing him the football?
By saying that Kupp has surpassed every other receiver in the league already, it’s practically implying that Matt Stafford is more crucial to Cooper Kupp’s success than Kupp’s actual talent. So, basically, if Kupp just needed a great quarterback to boost him up to the best receiver in the league, then that could theoretically be done with several NFL receivers. Just imagine how good Courtland Sutton could be with Aaron Rodgers or DJ Moore with Tom Brady. The narrative around the wide receiver position would be that the strength of any given wide receiver is almost entirely dependent on your quarterback. That doesn’t sound right.
Now, I’m not saying Kupp hasn’t been great this year. He certainly passes the eye test, and he clearly put in the time with Stafford during the offseason to become one of the deadliest receiving threats in the game. However, Kupp’s lack of production (compared to what he’s accomplishing now) with Jared Goff under center raises some question marks as to how much of Kupp’s meteoric rise is due to Stafford. Yes, Jared Goff isn’t good, but he’s not terrible. He isn’t an embarrassment to the game. He’s serviceable, so why couldn’t Kupp produce at even remotely similar levels to what we’re seeing now?
There’s a multitude of angles you or I could take to argue who the best receiver in the league is. However, raw stats should never be the only determining factor. For me personally, the ability to create separation, produce yards after the catch, pull in contested balls, and just catch passes in general (aka, a lack of butterfingers) are the best determining factors. If a receiver has all four of those tools, they should be able to thrive no matter who is throwing them the football.
Take Davante Adams for example. Clearly, having Aaron Rodgers toss you passes almost every game of your entire career is an enormous advantage. However, Rodgers doesn’t make Adams. In seven career games without Mr. “I’m immunized,” Adams still put up 41 receptions for 489 yards and four touchdowns. Those stats put Adams on a 16-game pace for 94 receptions, 1,118 yards, and nine touchdowns — all of which would be tied for career-highs or very close to career-highs for Kupp, and Adams did that with BRETT HUNDLEY!
Other players who’ve managed to maintain elite numbers despite poor options at quarterback include DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Antonio Brown, and Brandin Cooks. Now I wouldn’t put Evans, Brown, or Cooks above Kupp, but their ability to thrive in any circumstance is a greater representation of raw skill than Kupp’s insane rise in production with Stafford.
Kupp is playing at an elite level, and if he manages to keep this pace up, I’d find it hard to argue that he’s not at least a top-5 receiver in the league. However, Kupp has not done it long enough.
If Kupp is the best receiver in the league, then that implies the wide receiver position is of trivial importance compared to the quarterback. As long as you have serviceable options at the position and a great quarterback, those serviceable guys can become elite. So why would any team want to trade numerous assets away for someone like Hopkins or spend exorbitant amounts of money signing someone like Adams in free agency if a quarterback like Stafford can turn 2020 Kupp into 2021 Kupp practically overnight?
The wide receiver position is NOT entirely dependent on the talent at quarterback. Does having a great quarterback help? Of course. I’m not questioning that, and I’m not trying to discredit receivers like Julio Jones, Amari Cooper, or Keenan Allen who’ve always had the luxury of playing with a good-to-great option at quarterback. All I’m asking is “If Kupp is the best receiver in the NFL, where was this with Jared Goff?”