Los Angeles Rams: Did Cooper Kupp Have the Best WR Season Ever?

by Blaine Grisak
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There were several players that had remarkable seasons for the Los Angeles Rams during the 2021 season. However, none could have been better than Cooper Kupp. Kupp won the triple crown, offensive player of the year, and Super Bowl MVP. With all of these accomplishments, did Cooper Kupp just have the best wide receiver season ever?

There are several great wide receiver seasons in NFL history. You can start with the other three triple crown winners in Steve Smith, Sterling Sharpe, and Jerry Rice. Randy Moss‘ 2007 season is also up there as he was simply unguardable during the Patriots’ undefeated season. Michael Thomas set the receptions record a few years ago and had 1,700 yards. Calvin Johnson‘s 2012 season in which he nearly had 2,000 yards receiving has to be mentioned along with Larry Fitzgerald‘s 2008 and Jerry Rice’s 1995.

Those seasons for those wide receivers were all great, but none might have have better than the season that Kupp just had. In NFL history, only two receivers have won receiving triple crown, Offensive Player of the Year, and Super Bowl MVP. Those two wide receivers are Jerry Rice and Cooper Kupp. However, what makes Kupp’s feat much more impressive is that he accomplished all of those things all in the season season whereas Rice won the triple crown in 1986, offensive player of the year in 1987 and 1993, and Super Bowl MVP in 1988.

The best way to see how Kupp’s season compares to some of the other great season is simply by breaking them down. We’ll start with the triple crowns.

The Triple Crowns

In NFL history there have been four triple crown seasons with Cooper Kupp’s being the latest with the Los Angeles Rams. As mentioned earlier, the previous three were Steve Smith, Sterling Sharpe, and Jerry Rice.

In 2005, Steve Smith won the triple crown with 103 receptions for 1563 yards, and 12 touchdowns. While Smith did win the triple crown, he was actually tied for the league lead in receptions with Larry Fitzgerald. Kupp had 42 more receptions, four more touchdowns, and 400 more yards. The NFL was a different game in 2005, but Kupp outdoes Smith in every category. Despite having an extra game, Kupp had two more receptions per game than Smith and 20 more yards per game. The NFL is a different game now, but even adjusting for era, Kupp leads Smith.

Sterling Sharpe had 108 receptions for 1461 and 13 touchdowns to leads the NFL in all three categories in 1992. Again, Kupp surpasses Sharpe in all three categories and would have had the lead even if not for an extra 17th game. Kupp again had more than 20 yards and two receptions more per game. Sharpe’s season was impressive. He had 15 more receptions than the next closest receiver. However, Kupp’s season was more dominant as the distance between Kupp’s 145 receptions and Davante Adams‘ 123 at number two was slightly more than the distance as Adams at two and number 11.

Two years earlier in 1990, Jerry Rice won the league’s first triple crown with 100 receptions for 1502 yards and 13 touchdowns. Again, Kupp crushed all of those numbers in his triple crown season. Rice was dominant though. The distance between his 100 receptions and and Andre Rison‘s 82 receptions at number two were the same distance between Rison and two and Kelvin Martin at 17 with 64 receptions. Rice also had more yards per reception than Kupp.

Rice’s 1990 season is the one that you can maybe make a case for as the greatest triple crown season ever just because of how dominant it was given the era. 100 receptions in a season is almost normal now. Rice was the second receiver to ever do it after Art Monk. Despite this, Rice didn’t win the offensive player of the year. The 49ers receiver also faltered in the playoffs with games of only 68 and 54 yards. After finishing the season with more than 100 yards in three of the final four games, this was a disappointment.

Of these players, Kupp is the only player to win the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year and given the current receiver talent pool, to lead in all three categories might be the most impressive feat in NFL history.

Randy Moss’ 2007 Season

One of the most dominant seasons ever was likely Randy Moss’ 2007 season with the New England Patriots. Opposing teams imply couldn’t cover him. Moss got the record for most touchdowns with 23.

What makes his record impressive is that he had touchdowns in 13 games and had eight games with two or more touchdowns. Compare this to Cooper Kupp who had five games with two or more touchdowns and 11 games with a touchdown. Both are extremely impressive, but Moss was simply dominant. Moss also made up 46% of Tom Brady‘s touchdowns that season while Kupp made up 39%.

Moss didn’t just have a nose for the end zone either. He did all of this on just 98 receptions, meaning 23% of his receptions ended in a touchdown compared to Kupp’s 11%. The Patriots wide receiver also almost had 1500 yards, finishing with 1,493 and 15.23 yards per reception compared to Kupp’s 13.43. However, Kupp did have more yards per target with 10.19 to Moss’ 9.33.

With all of this being said, while Moss had a dominant regular season, he was not able to keep it up in the playoffs. Against the Jaguars in the divisional round, he had just one reception for 14 yards. He followed it up with one reception for 18 yards in the AFC Championship game. Moss picked it up in the Super Bowl with five receptions for 62 yards and scored his only touchdown of the postseason. Moss’ first two games of the postseason were his worst games of 2007.

Compare this to Cooper Kupp who didn’t slow down in the postseason. The Los Angeles Rams wide receiver had 183 yards in the divisional round and followed it up with 142 in the AFC Championship game. When his team needed him, Kupp delivered, scoring the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. Kupp had six touchdowns to Moss’ one in the postseason.

Moss had a dominant regular season – maybe the best ever. However, unlike Kupp, he disappeared when it mattered most in the playoffs. Because of that, the edge has to go to Kupp.

Calvin Johnson’s 2012 Season

What makes comparing these two seasons special is that Matthew Stafford was the quarterback for both of them.

Calvin Johnson broke the NFL’s receiving record in 2012 with 1964 yards. Many do consider this the most dominant receiving season ever for a wide receiver. With that said, Kupp’s 2021 season isn’t that far off. The Los Angeles Rams wide receiver finished just 17 yards shy of Johnson’s record.

Yes, Kupp had an extra game, but Johnson also had 14 more targets. If Kupp had 205 targets, he would have finished with over 2,000 yards. Kupp also did more per route as Kupp had 3.12 yards per route ran to Johnson’s 2.55.

Both wide receivers had 11-100 yard games in their respective seasons. However, Kupp had 16 games of 90 or more yards while Johnson had just 12. In fact, Kupp’s worst game was a 64-yard performance against the Arizona Cardinals. Meanwhile, Johnson had three games of 60 yards or less.

What Johnson does have that Kupp doesn’t is two games over 200 yards. With that said, and not to take away from it, both of Johnson’s 200 yard games came in losses. The Lions trailed by 10 or more points in the fourth quarter in both games. Kupp’s biggest games in the regular season came in wins against the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions.

Both receivers also had very similar target shares of Stafford’s total yards. Kupp edged Johnson by the slimmest of margins. The Los Angeles Rams wide receiver accounted for 39.8% of Stafford’s yards to Johnson’s 39.6%.

The biggest difference in these two seasons has to do with how many times both players found the end zone. Johnson had five receiving touchdowns in 2012. Kupp nearly tripled that this season with 16. These two seasons aren’t even close in that aspect.

Johnson’s season was the highlight of a 4-12 year for the Detroit Lions while Kupp was lucky enough to take his record season into the playoffs. These are two very similar seasons, but the edge has to go to Kupp. The Los Angeles Rams wide receivers was simply more consistent.

Michael Thomas’ 2019 Season

Again, these are two very similar seasons. Thomas finished with 149 receptions to Kupp’s 145 and both players won the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. With four less receptions, Kupp simply did more. Kupp had a full two yards more per reception and nearly a full yard more per target. In terms of routes ran, Kupp also did more. Thomas had 2.82 yards per reception to Kupp’s 3.12.

Thomas’ season was impressive. He had nine games of 10 or more receptions. That almost doubled Kupp’s five games of 10 or more receptions. With that said, Kupp had 16 games with six or more catches to Thomas’ 14. In fact, Kupp didn’t have a single game with less than five catches whereas Thomas had one.

In 2019, Thomas had a higher catch percentage than Kupp, catching 80% of his targets to Kupp’s 75%.

While 149 receptions is impressive, Kupp simply did more. He had 200 more yards and four more touchdowns.

Larry Fitzgerald’s 2008 and Jerry Rice’s 1995 Seasons

Larry Fitzgerald possibly had the most dominant postseason ever for a wide receiver. In the 2008 season, he and Warner willed the Cardinals to the Super Bowl. Fitzgerald’s touchdown could have been the game-winner, but Pittsburgh went down the field to take the lead with few seconds remaining.

Fitzgerald had 546 yards on 30 receptions which bests Kupp’s 478 yards on 33 receptions. Fitzgerald even had one more touchdown in the postseason than Kupp. Fitzgerald’s regular season wasn’t too shabby either. He had 1431 yards on 96 receptions with 12 touchdown. Prior to this year, Fitzgerald’s 1977 yards for a total season was the most ever.

Playing just one more game, Cooper Kupp shattered it. Kupp had 2425 yards which was almost 500 more than Fitzgerald’s 1977. Fitzgerald had a dominant postseason, but again, Kupp had nearly a full yard more per target than Fitzgerald and had a higher yards per route ran.

Despite losing the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald’s postseason might best Kupp. However, as far as season as a whole, Kupp get the edge.

Moving on to Jerry Rice’s 1995 season. This is one that will have the biggest argument against Kupp. For Jerry Rice to put up 1848 yards in 1995 is simply unheard of. However, this was a big year for wide receivers. The 10th best receiver had 1301 yards compared to 1161 this season.

Rice had more yards per reception and more yards per target than Kupp. He also had just one less touchdown, but also did this in one less game. On a per game basis, Rice edges Kupp in yards with 115.5 yards per game to Kupp’s 114.53. However, Kupp had 8.5 receptions per game to Rice’s 7.6. Both players finished with 0.94 touchdowns per game.

What’s even more impressive is that Rice did this with two different quarterbacks. Steve Young only played in 11 games while backup Elvis Grbac started five. The two quarterbacks combined for 4779 yards, meaning Rice accounted for 38.6% of his team’s receiving yards. As we calculated earlier, this is similar to Kupp’s 39.8%. However, Rice only accounted for 28% of his team’s receptions to Kupp’s 35.8%. Contrarily, Rice had more than 50% of his team’s receiving touchdowns compared to Kupp who had 39% of his.

These two seasons are neck and neck and great in their own ways. Rice even performed well in the playoffs. While the 49ers lost 27-17 on the road to the Packers, Rice had 117 yards on 11 receptions. Still, two of Kupp’s three NFC playoff games bested that.

These two are close. Fitzgerald and Kupp are close in the postseason, but Kupp’s regular season is what sets him apart. With Rice, his 1995 season might be slightly better than Kupp’s, but Kupp’s postseason gives him the edge. Overall, given what Kupp accomplished, it’s hard not to say his season was better than both.

Conclusion

There are some that will still doubt Cooper Kupp’s 2021 as the greatest season ever or even as a top-5 wide receiver. He’s never been the most physically dominant player like Johnson or Moss or been the fastest wide receiver. However, just because he’s always been looked over, doesn’t mean he isn’t capable of having the best season ever for a wide receiver.

At the end of the day, he’s only the fourth wide receiver ever to win the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year Award. He only received one vote for MVP, but it should have been a lot more in a season in which no quarterback truly stood out.

When the Los Angeles Rams needed Cooper Kupp to make a play, he delivered in a big way. You could make an argument for 25 wide receivers to be in the top-10. The talent pool at the position is deeper than ever. Kupp led all three categories. There’s a reason he not only won the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year but also only the eighth wide receiver to win the MVP. Kupp managed to do three things that are very rare for a wide receiver all in the same season.

Jerry Rice’s 1995 season certainly has an argument here and Randy Moss’ 2007 regular season might be the most dominant. However, when taking the season as a whole and the accolades, Kupp’s 2021 season is the best season ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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