Los Angeles Rams: Cooper Kupp Needs to Be in the MVP Conversation

by Blaine Grisak
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Throughout NFL history, the wide receiver position has been criminally underrepresented when it comes to the NFL’s major awards. No wide receiver has ever won the league’s MVP award and only three times has a wide receiver been named the Offensive Player of the Year. When Cooper Kupp is having the type of season that he is for the Los Angeles Rams, the odds of getting proper recognition are stacked against him.

Calvin Johnson came 36 yards away from 2000 in 2012. The Lions wide receiver wasn’t in the MVP conversation and didn’t win the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. Randy Moss broke the receiving touchdown record in 2007 and Tom Brady swept the two major awards.

Winning The Triple Crown

As mentioned, a wide receiver has never won the NFL’s MVP award. Three wide receivers have won the wide receiver triple crown. The triple crown is when a wide receiver leads all receivers in yards, receptions, and touchdowns. Those three were Steve Smith in 2005, Sterling Sharpe in 1992, and Jerry Rice in 1990.

Neither Smith, Sharpe, or Rice won Offensive Player of the Year, let alone MVP.

Everyone knows that the MVP has become a quarterback award. A non-QB hasn’t won the award since Adrian Peterson in 2012 and 13 of the last 14 have been quarterbacks. However, Kupp’s current odds to win MVP are the same as Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and higher than Dak Prescott.

Kupp is potentially having the greatest single season for a wide receiver in NFL history. If Cooper Kupp wins the triple crown this season, it might honestly be one of the more impressive feats from a wide receiver. The wide receiver position has never been more talented or deeper than it is in today’s game. If you polled 10 analysts on who the top-10 wide receivers in the NFL are, there’s a good chance you would get a full list of 20+ players.

That wasn’t the case in 2005. A player hasn’t won the NFL’s triple crown at wide receiver in 15 years. There’s a reason for that. Mike Evans has the 20th most receiving yards this season, but could be argued as a top-10 receiver. The same goes for Terry McLaurin and Stefon Diggs who are also outside the top-10 in those metrics.

As it currently stands, Cooper Kupp has 20 more receptions than the next closest receiver. His 122 receptions are a Rams franchise record and he’s only played 14 games. This is a franchise that has housed the likes of Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, and Henry Ellard.

Kupp has 290 more yards than the next closest receiver and three more receiving touchdowns. The third round pick out of Eastern Washington has the most 20 and 40 yard receptions in the league. Right now, the race for the NFL’s triple crown at wide receiver isn’t even close.

The Los Angeles Rams wide receiver is heading down the final stretch while everybody else hasn’t even made it to the final turn.

Leading in Other Categories

It doesn’t stop there. Kupp also has 90 or more yards in 10 straight games which is a NFL record. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he breaks Calvin Johnson’s receiving record. He would only need 113 yards per game over the next three games. As it stands, Kupp is averaging 116 yards per game.

The impressive list of accomplishment don’t stop when it comes to Cooper Kupp in 2021. Look at any statistical category when it comes to wide receivers and Cooper Kupp’s name is likely on the very top. In the past, it has taken historic seasons for non-quarterbacks to win the MVP award. As it stands, Kupp is having a historic season.

When targeted this season, Kupp’s total EPA is 77.2. The next closest? Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings at 56.7. That’s a three touchdown gap. To illustrate how much better Kupp is than the rest of the field, the gap between Kupp and Jefferson is larger than Jefferson and number 15 DeAndre Hopkins.

Cooper Kupp’s Value

The term ‘most valuable’ at its core means a player that has the most value on their respective team. This is why it’s so difficult for a non-quarterback to win the award. The quarterback is by far the most valuable position on the field given that the ball touches their hand on every single play.

This is a reason that quarterbacks almost need their own separate award as its almost impossible for a non-quarterback to have a chance. A quarterback gets all the credit when a team wins and takes most of the blame when a team loses – as fair or not fair as this might be.

From a statistical standpoint, a quarterback may only throw a three-yard pass, but they’ll get credit for all 25 yards if the wide receiver creates yards after the catch. The fact that Kupp alone makes up 39% of the Los Angeles Rams passing yards is very impressive and 708 of those yards have come after the catch which leads the NFL. This is higher than Justin Jefferson’s 36% and Devante Adams’ 35.7%.

Football Outsiders has a measurement for to measure value called DYAR which is Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. DYAR represents a wide receiver’s total value.

Kupp’s DYAR of 507 leads the NFL and is over 100 points higher than Justin Jefferson’s 394. In fact, Kupp’s 507 DYAR is the sixth highest number since 2010.

2011 Calvin Johnson – 565
2014 Antonio Brown – 554
2019 Michael Thomas – 538
2015 Antonio Brown – 517
2011 Jordie Nelson – 510
2021 Cooper Kupp – 507

In terms of overall value, Kupp not only leads all wide receivers, but he also leads all running backs. Jonathan Taylor’s DYAR number is 476, which is impressive in itself given that its the second-highest mark for a running back since Adrian Peterson in 2012.

Cooper Kupp’s MVP Moment

When it comes to awards like the Heisman or the NFL’s MVP, voters look for a ‘Heisman’ or MVP moment. Kupp has had a handful of these this season and has played some of his best games when the Los Angeles Rams have needed him most. He’s shown up consistently in the team’s biggest games.

Trailing 21-17 in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2, Kupp scored the game-winning touchdown to put the Los Angeles Rams up 24-21. On that drive, it was Kupp’s 44-yard reception that put the Rams in scoring range and then 10-yard reception for the touchdown. Kupp finished with nine receptions for 163 yards and two touchdowns.

The following week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who had won 10 straight games, including the Super Bowl, Kupp again had a big game. Kupp scored a touchdown early to put the Rams up for good at 14-7. Kupp scored a second touchdown  in the second half to give the Rams a 28-14 lead. The Rams receiver finished with nine receptions for 96 yards and two touchdowns.

Kupp has simply taken over games.

Needing a win against the Arizona Cardinals on the road to get back in the NFC West Division race, Kupp arguably had his biggest game of the season. Kupp had a season-high 13 receptions against the NFL’s number four pass defense via DVOA. Four of Kupp’s receptions went for first downs or touchdowns. Kupp’s touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the Rams up 27-13, essentially put the game away.

However, Kupp’s true MVP moment and biggest game of the year might have came last week against the Seattle Seahawks. With the offense unable to get much of anything going, Kupp took over the game. Trailing 10-3 early in the second half, Kupp had a 32-yard reception, winning a jump ball over Sydney Jones. Kupp completed the drive with a six yard touchdown to tie the game.

With the game tied 10-10, Kupp found the end zone for a second time on a 29-yard crosser. Kupp took over the football game and finished with nine receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns. He accounted for over half of Stafford’s passing yards. Kupp scored both touchdowns in what was a 20-10 game.

Cooper Kupp’s Case For MVP

In all likelihood, Cooper Kupp won’t win the NFL’s MVP award. However, he certainly deserves to be in the conversation and should be the front-runner for Offensive Player of the Year. As mentioned, Kupp is arguably having one of the best seasons for a wide receiver in NFL history.

At this point, it’s almost a forgone conclusion that he breaks the single season receiving record and will likely become the first 2,000 yard wide receiver in NFL history. He may not break the touchdown mark, but even if he gets to 18, it’s still a ridiculous, historical season. Kupp is hitting every traditional receiving benchmark and exceeding it.

Kupp is doing more than any other wide receiver whenever he’s on the field. He does everything. He’s not simply a deep threat, slot guy, or possession receiver. He’s all of those things and more. Kupp lines up in the slot, outside, and in the backfield. The things that he’s able to unlock in the Los Angeles Rams offense is comparable to upgrading from an average to really good quarterback.

It doesn’t take much to understand how special of a season Cooper Kupp is having. Historically, wide receivers haven’t been given recognition for all-time great seasons. Hopefully Kupp gets the recognition that he deserves outside of a pro bowl selection and all-pro honors.

 

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