Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, or Cooper Kupp?
These three names have appeared next to each other on the field and in fantasy drafts. They have been compared ad nauseam, each a critical piece to an explosive Rams offense.
Last season, we saw the Rams take the NFL by storm. With an improved Jared Goff, a dominant Todd Gurley, and a 3-headed monster at wide receiver, the Rams put up points at an unprecedented level.
Through the first 5 weeks of the season, Goff’s favorite target was undoubtedly Cooper Kupp. An elite fantasy option during that period, Kupp was on his way to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with.
Injuries, unfortunately, derailed his season before it could really take off. Let’s take a comprehensive look at Kupp’s impact on the offense, his connection with Goff, and recovery from injury.
Kupp is a Target Machine
Coming into the 2017 season, Kupp was unheralded despite breaking many records in college. His athletic profile was uninspiring, to say the least. He was an older prospect and didn’t have much versatility; he played almost exclusively in the slot during college.
Despite these question marks, the Rams drafted him in the 3rd round of the 2017 NFL Draft. After leapfrogging former top-ten pick Tavon Austin, Kupp began the year in 3-WR sets along with Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods. He had a solid rookie year, catching 62 passes for 869 yards and 5 touchdowns. Unfortunately, however, the Rams were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Atlanta Falcons.
In 2018, Kupp cemented himself, in my eyes, as Goff’s favorite target. Before his ACL tear, he was on pace for 91 receptions, 1,294 yards, and 14 TD’s. Those are absurd numbers for someone with as many weapons around him as Kupp.
Obviously, no one knows if he could have continued producing at that rate. But what we can infer from this is that Kupp was Goff’s go to guy during that period. Even when Kupp attempted to come back from his injury, he put up 5 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown before tearing his ACL the following week.
During those first five weeks, Kupp was the WR2 in half-PPR. That was with the Rams firing on all cylinders. Cooks and Woods were still the WR23 and WR10, respectively, and Gurley was one of the frontrunners for MVP. Despite all of the weapons at Goff’s disposal, Kupp was still the most consistent option among the three, and soaked up targets.
|Name||Fantasy Points Weeks 1-5|
Of course, there should be caution with getting too excited about these statistics. They came in a five-game sample size, and the Rams offense could take a step back with a slightly downgraded offensive line and Gurley’s injury worry. Plus, producing weeks 1-5 doesn’t mean Kupp would’ve finished as a WR1: For example, AJ Green got injured after a blistering start, and Adam Thielen and Golden Tate faded over the second half of the season.
However, I would argue that Kupp’s rookie season combined with his close friendship and on-field chemistry with Goff is plenty to suggest that they will pick up right where they left off. The fact that Kupp missed two games to injury and immediately resumed the same role as Goff’s security blanket should say something. Barring injury, which we will talk about later, Kupp should be the odds-on favorite to lead the Rams in receiving production. His situation and chemistry with Goff makes him a potential league winner in the 5th and 6th round.
Goff and Kupp: A Match Made in Heaven
Coming into his rookie season, Kupp was a small-school prospect that had unparalleled college production. The Rams took a chance on him with their third-round pick.
Kupp was welcomed into the NFL with open arms: by becoming Jared Goff’s roommate. They learned McVay’s new playbook together, practiced together, and learned each other’s tendencies.
The chemistry between the QB and WR is critical because it is that person who the QB will lean on when they have no one else to throw to, or when they need a critical play. An obvious comparison here is Tom Brady and Julian Edelman. The reason that Edelman always converts key third downs and is Brady’s most reliable target is because he knows the offense and how Brady’s mind works. There is a reason why Davante Adams put up monster stats and was close to leading the league in targets last year-he was the only wideout that Rodgers trusted.
It throws off defenses because they can’t make out what the QB sees. Goff can take a look at the coverage and knows where Kupp will be, always. He doesn’t even need to look his way. As a defense, how do you stop this connection when they both know exactly where to attack?
Goff may not be an elite real-life quarterback. He may not have the same drive and determination to close out big games, like Brady. He may not be as accurate and efficient as Russell Wilson. But the beauty is, he doesn’t have to be. He’s 24 years old and tied to a head coach that has vocally expressed his support for Goff numerous times. He’s going to get a giant contract pretty soon, and will want his favorite target and real-life best friend to be kept around for the ride. Without Gurley at full strength, the Rams will be passing at an even higher rate than they were last year.
There may be people who remember the Rams sputtering out over the second half of the season. They may remember a horrific loss to the Bears and their embarrassing showing in the Super Bowl. Guess who wasn’t there the second half of the season? Kupp.
Take a look at the below graph (per Pro Football Focus) to see which active QB-WR duos have the highest rate of catchable targets. Kupp and Goff lead the NFL in this stat, which is important because it shows that Kupp is consistently getting open, getting targeted, and getting trusted in every area of the field.
|QB/WR Duo||Catchable Target Percentage Rate|
|Jared Goff/Cooper Kupp||84.90%|
|Drew Brees/Michael Thomas||84.60%|
|Kirk Cousins/Adam Thielen||83.20%|
|Philip Rivers/Keenan Allen||79.50%|
|Matt Ryan/Mohamed Sanu||79.50%|
|Ben Roethlisberger/Juju Smith-Schuster||79.50%|
|Jared Goff/Brandin Cooks||79.10%|
|Andy Dalton/Tyler Boyd||79%|
|Tom Brady/Julian Edelman||78.40%|
|Russell Wilson/Tyler Lockett||78.10%|
As you can see, Goff and Kupp’s chemistry is off the charts. Drew Brees, often lauded as the most accurate QB of all time, and Michael Thomas, lauded as the model of consistency and sure-handedness, lag behind the dynamic duo.
Kupp is a TD Machine
When you think of slot receivers, you think of the gaudy reception totals of Julian Edelman and Jarvis Landry. You think of the yardage consistency of someone like Adam Thielen. You don’t usually think of them as a go-to guy in the red zone.
However, since his entrance into the league, Kupp has not only been Goff’s preferred option for short and intermediate routes but also for red zone passes. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Kupp had 11 targets in the red zone in the 6 games he played in full last season. and 7 inside the 10-yard line.
Over a 16-game season, if he kept the pace, Kupp would have led the league in red zone targets, with 32 and 10-zone targets, with 18. Over 6 full games, he had as many 10-zone targets as Julio Jones and Tyreek Hill, who played the entire season and with better quarterbacks.
Cooks, while being somewhat consistent in terms of the stats he ends up with at the end of the year, is not someone you can count on every single week. Woods is more consistent but does not have the same upside as Kupp.
And oh, if you think Kupp is a pure short-yardage guy, I’ll leave you with this:
Comeback Player of the Year?
Let’s be honest, though: there is no doubt in my mind that Kupp would be much more highly touted coming into this year if not for his ACL tear. While many are skeptical of him being able to play, and play at the level he once could, there are reasons for optimism.
When tearing an ACL, oftentimes it is just as much a mental hurdle as a physical one. Players have to be comfortable cutting and not hesitate to lean on the leg they injured. Early last year, we saw Deshaun Watson struggle in his first few games as he caught up to NFL speed. It was easy to see that he still didn’t fully trust his leg as the Texans stumbled to an 0-3 start.
Once he overcame those mental obstacles, however, he was back to his former self. According to all reports coming out of camp, Kupp looks like his former self and is ahead of schedule on his rehab. All signs are pointing to him playing week 1. But it’s not only the coaches saying this; it’s Kupp himself. He recently stated “I’m tripping over myself, I’m so juiced” and that he “felt great” after taking his first hit. Kupp is a madman, and someone I wouldn’t dare bet against. I fully believe in his ability to recover, and if he does, you’re getting him at a discounted price.
Before camp started, Kupp was able to avoid the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and did not seem hesitant in pushing himself and going all out. There have seemingly been no complications or issues so far with Kupp’s recovery. Those who were skeptical that he would be able to return as soon as he has are now reevaluating his worth.
According to FantasyPros, Kupp’s ADP in half-PPR formats is 48 overall, WR21. If you want stud running backs or maybe a tight end in the first few rounds, I would be perfectly fine with Kupp as my WR1. As the top target in a high-octane offense, he will return your value and more, health providing. Again, I will stress that he was the WR2 in the first five weeks last season. I hope I’ve convinced you that it was not a fluke.
(Photo by Tim Williams/Actionplus/Icon Sportswire)