Narrowing the Field to Find 2022’s Cooper Kupp (Fantasy Football)

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Okay, look. Even the title is ridiculous isn’t it? I mean, we’re trying to find a WR in fantasy drafts going later than he should who can replicate the most historic fantasy season of all time. Just for a refresher, he’s what Cooper Kupp did in 2021:

  • 191 Targets (1st)
  • 145 Receptions (1st)
  • 1,947 Yards (1st)
  • 16 Receiving TD (1st)
  • 367 Fantasy Points (1st)

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just find this year’s WR who’s going to set some records and bank 14 (!!) top-12 weekly fantasy finishes and win your fantasy league. To put in perspective what Cooper Kupp did last year, let’s take a look at some of the best fantasy WR seasons of all time just to get a sense of how difficult it might be to find this year’s Cooper Kupp.

Year Player Receptions Yards TD Fantasy Points
2021 Cooper Kupp 145 1947 16 367
2007 Randy Moss 98 1493 23 336.2
2014 Antonio Brown 129 1698 13 316.4
2015 Antonio Brown 136 1834 10 314.2
2011 Calvin Johnson 96 1681 16 311.2

Sure, it was a 17-game season, but those stats alone let us know what we’re trying to accomplish when answering the question, “Who is this year’s Cooper Kupp?” Truthfully, that player probably doesn’t exist, but where’s the fun in that?

For this study, let’s see if we can find a WR who’s capable of an outlier season and who can vastly out-perform their ADP and be the ultimate league winner in 2022. To do that, we have to set some parameters for this study. I want to walk back through the process that led to Kupp being the most valuable player in fantasy last year and identify five different sets of criteria for 2022.

The ‘Narrowing the Field Series‘ has led to some major hits over the years, including identifying George Kittle, Mark Andrews, Chris Godwin, and Calvin Ridley before they broke out. Let’s see if we can keep it going with 2022’s Cooper Kupp.

For the Footballers’ official sleepers, breakouts, and busts at the WR position, check out the Ultimate Draft Kit.

1. Going Outside the First Three Rounds

Last season, Cooper Kupp was a guy a lot of people wanted on their teams, but fantasy drafters weren’t over the moon about Kupp on their squad. According to Fantasy Football Calculator’s 2021 Half PPR ADP, Kupp was coming off the board at the 4.11 as the WR18, and over on Sleeper, he was being drafted as the WR17. Not only was he being drafted after a bunch of other WRs but, he was also going after names like Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Josh Jacobs, Myles Gaskin, and Kyle Pitts. He was even being drafted after his own teammate, Robert Woods. In other words, Kupp was not a priority target in drafts, and no one saw his historic season coming. He was being drafted as a WR2. To find this year’s Cooper Kupp, that WR must be going in Round 4 or later.

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So why was Kupp going in Round 4 or 5 last year? He was coming off a season in 2020 in which he regressed significantly after the WR4 overall finish in 2019. In 2020, Kupp caught 92 balls but he failed to deliver a 1,000-yard season and only caught 3 TDs. Following the WR27 overall finish in 2020, fantasy drafters were wondering if his 2019 season was just a flash in the pan.

Players Eliminated: All WRs going in Rounds 1-3 – Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Mike Evans, Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Deebo Samuel, Tyreek Hill, Keenan Allen, A.J. Brown, Tee Higgins

2. History of Prior Success… But Recent Disappointment

We’ve already touched on this a little bit but Cooper Kupp didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. In other words, he flashed a fantasy football ceiling previously in his career. Back in 2019, Kupp was the WR4 in all of fantasy on the back of 1,161 yards and 10 TDs. In that season, he out-performed his ADP by 15 WR spots as he was going off the board as the WR19 overall. To find this season’s Cooper Kupp, he must have a history of prior success in the NFL, which essentially eliminates the 2022 rookie WR class.

But we can take this thing one step further – the reason Kupp was being drafted where he was last year was because of disappointing fantasy mangers the year prior. Doesn’t that always seem to happen? We look at the previous season, then talk ourselves into or out of a player or push them down the draft board due to some concerns. Kupp’s WR27 fantasy finish in the previous season kept his ADP down.

So, to summarize here, we’re looking for a WR who has flashed a fantasy ceiling in the past (let’s say at least one top-20 fantasy WR season for now so we can keep our player pool a bit bigger for the time being) but also a player who isn’t on a constant trajectory upwards. We’re also looking for a player who somewhat recently let fantasy managers down relative to ADP.

Players Eliminated: Diontae Johnson, Darnell Mooney, Terry McLaurin, Marquise Brown, Elijah Moore, Amon-Ra St. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Kadarius Toney

3. The Ability to Earn Targets in a High Volume Passing Offense

Cooper Kupp‘s 2021 season would not have been possible if he weren’t averaging an absurd 11.2 targets per game, good for a 31.7% target market share. While it’s usually pretty rare for any WR to see a 30+% target share, we should at least be trying to find wideouts who have a path to a 25+% target share, but I think we should take this thing one step further. Kupp saw a massive amount of targets not only because of his talent and ability to earn those targets but because of the offensive philosophy. The Rams ranked tied for 5th in the NFL in neutral situation pass rate and 10th in passing attempts per game. In this scenario, we can immediately eliminate WRs who are playing on offenses we project to be extremely run-heavy because even though those players might see a large piece of their team’s passing offense’s pie, that pie might be too small to support a top-5 fantasy WR. This immediately eliminates the WRs from teams like the Titans, Ravens, Seahawks, and Patriots.

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But back to the task at hand – identifying WRs who have not shown an ability to earn targets in their NFL career. Remember, Kupp had a 134 and a 124 target season in his history. On a per route run basis, Kupp flashed the talent to earn targets in his team’s offense.

Players Eliminated: Robert Woods, Treylon Burks, Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, D.K. Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Rashod Bateman, Chase Claypool

4. Ambiguous WR Depth Chart

As mentioned previously, not only was Cooper Kupp being drafted after some egregious names in hindsight but he was also being drafted just after his teammate, Robert Woods. You could have probably asked 100 people prior to the start of last year which Rams WR was going to lead the team in production and I’d bet that it was a near 50/50 split with Woods and Kupp – that’s what ADP tells us anyway. It’s so much easier to identify breakout WRs when we are confident in their role on their offense. For example, everyone is in love with CeeDee Lamb this year because there’s absolutely zero doubt he can (and probably will) dominate the target share over Michael Gallup, who’s coming off injury, rookie Jalen Tolbert and James Washington. We’ve already eliminated CeeDee due to his ADP, but he’s the perfect example of a WR where it’s clear and obvious who the WR1 is on his team.

Players Eliminated: Hunter Renfrow (Davante Adams clear WR1), Gabriel Davis (Stefon Diggs clear WR1), Allen Robinson (Cooper Kupp clear WR1), Russell Gage (Mike Evans clear WR1), Tyler Boyd (Ja’Marr Chase clear WR1), Adam Thielen (Justin Jefferson clear WR1), Brandin Cooks, Michael Pittman, and D.J. Moore are the clear WR1s on their own team.

5. QB Upgrade On the Horizon

Cooper Kupp played four seasons with Jared Goff before Matthew Stafford led the Rams to the Super Bowl last season. Subjectively speaking, Stafford’s style of play was always more suited to support an elite fantasy WR as we’ve seen him attempt plenty of deep passes and push the ball down the field more in his career than we have with Jared Goff. Stafford also supported multiple elite fantasy WR seasons with Calvin Johnson back in the day. To speak to the upgrade at QB more objectively, let’s take a look at Goff’s 2020 season compared to Stafford’s 2021 season.

Jared Goff Matthew Stafford
Completion Rate 67% 67%
Pass Yards/Game 263.5 287.4
Yards/Att 7.2 8.1
Passing TD 20 41
TD Rate 3.6% 6.8%

Simply put, Kupp’s 2021 season doesn’t happen without Stafford. After all, they did eat breakfast together every day…This year’s Cooper Kupp will have to have a relatively significant upgrade at QB to help that WR make the leap back into fantasy stardom. The players eliminated below did not see an upgrade in QB play despite their fantasy ceiling being sky high and fitting our defined criteria above.

Players Eliminated: Mike Williams, Keenan Allen, Jaylen Waddle

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2022 Candidates to Be This Year’s Cooper Kupp

These three candidates are based on hitting the previous five criteria discussed. Other WRs certainly have better shots but we wanted to make sure we were strict in applying the exact same measures from Kupp’s season.

Courtland Sutton – Current ADP: 5.09/WR22

Courtland Sutton fits all of the criteria we’re looking for based on Kupp’s 2021 season and the factors that may have led to his breakout, but there are three things that are eerily similar to that of Cooper Kupp. The first and most obvious is the gigantic upgrade in QB play from the combination of Teddy Bridgewater and Drew Lock to Russell Wilson. Part of what helped Kupp have that outlier season was an outlier season from Stafford where he posted his highest TD rate (6.8%) and highest yards per attempt mark of his career. Coming over from Seattle’s run-first scheme, is it possible we finally see the #LetRussCook movement in Denver?

In addition to the QB upgrade, Sutton also has a history of previous fantasy success and multiple disappointing seasons under his belt. In 2019, Sutton finished as fantasy’s WR19 in half PPR formats. The following year he was a massive bust in 2020 when he tore his ACL, and again last season in 2021 when he finished as the 46…woof. Ironically, Kupp and Sutton both have a history of an ACL tear in their career…but that’s not really part of this analysis.

Finally, Sutton fits the bill player for an offense with an ambiguous WR depth chart. Just like Woods and Kupp from a year ago, fantasy drafters don’t really know what to do with Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy. Both Denver wideouts go in the first five rounds, and they’re both being drafted within just two spots of one another. If that doesn’t scream ambiguous WR depth chart, I don’t know what is. It is worth noting that Jeudy is an interesting name for a true breakout season, but his lack of prior fantasy success in the NFL kept him off my list. In the 5th round of your fantasy draft, Sutton has upside written all over him, especially if he can earn the role as the primary red-zone target for this team, giving him paths to an outlier TD season.

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

JuJu Smith-Schuster – ADP: 7.06/WR34

Before this study, I was definitely in the camp that JuJu probably isn’t the guy we all thought he would be years ago when Jason coined the phrase, “A star was born” back when he was dominating during the early part of his career in Pittsburgh. But that’s just the thing. JuJu most certainly has flashed the fantasy upside we’re looking for… and he’s obviously let everyone down in recent history. Back in 2018 when JuJu finished as the WR9, he saw 166 targets in a high-volume passing offense and that was with Antonio Brown, who by the way finished as the WR4 with 168 targets. Remember, part of our criteria is trying to identify WRs who can earn a ton of targets. Travis Kelce is sure to see his volume, but as JuJu has shown in the past, he can produce alongside another target earner so long as the offense can support it. In three seasons with Patrick Mahomes as a starter, the Chiefs have ranked inside the top-6 in neutral situation pass rate every year. If Mahomes comes out and leads the league in pass attempts, would anyone be surprised?

Speaking of Mahomes, the upgrade from Ben Roethlisberger at the tail end of his career to arguably the NFL’s most talented passer can’t be overstated. Among QBs with 100+ dropbacks a year ago, Big Ben ranked 41st out of 44 QBs in average depth of target and 37th in yards per attempt, tied with Zach Wilson and Trevor Siemian. If you just threw up in your mouth a little bit, that’s okay – I did too. You could argue no NFL WR saw a bigger upgrade in QB talent this season than JuJu.

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As for the WR depth chart? You’ll find those out there that believe Marquez-Valdes Scantling is the WR1, and the dynasty community is all over Skyy Moore. According to current ADP, MVS is going as the WR55 while Moore is going as the WR48. At JuJu’s current 7th round ADP, the opportunity cost is so minimal that he’s an obvious target in this range as your WR3 or WR4. If it doesn’t work out and he just flat out isn’t as good as we all thought he was, he can easily be dropped in redraft leagues without crushing your team. I’m absolutely taking the shot.

Christian Kirk – Current ADP: 10.02/WR47

Okay, I’ve got to admit it – this feels like a stretch. Kirk is going wayyyyyy later than Kupp was a year ago, but hear me out. I went back and looked at Christian Kirk‘s numbers in his career and found some interesting information. While Kirk has never eclipsed 1,000 yards in his pro career, the underlying metrics suggest it could only be a matter of time. Last season, he averaged career highs in yards per route run (2.0) and yards per target (9.5). Per Sports Info Solutions, Kirk’s yards-per-target average ranked 7th in the NFL among WRs who saw at least 100 targets. He was highly efficient as a Cardinal last season, and he set a career-high in receptions, likely the result of DeAndre Hopkins‘ injury and A.J. Green‘s decline at this stage of his career. Maybe he can be the WR1 for an NFL franchise? After all, the Jaguars certainly think he can after they agreed to pay him $72 million over the next four seasons.

Kirk doesn’t completely fit our criteria above, as his best fantasy finish in his career was WR26. Still, as stated above, the underlying metrics suggest a boom season could be on the horizon if he gets an upgrade in QB play and overall passing volume, which brings me to my next point. Okay, let’s bend the rules a little bit here again. Most of us would agree – Trevor Lawrence probably isn’t an upgrade over Kyler Murray…but I’m going to just put this out there…what if he is? I mean, shoot – let’s be honest. We can’t use any of Lawrence’s 2021 data after the debacle that took place in Jacksonville last year under Urban Meyer. Entering the NFL, Lawrence was considered by most pro scouts as the most “pro ready” QB since Andrew Luck, something that was not said about Murray when he entered the NFL. Lawrence will definitely have to take a massive step forward for Kirk to hit, but maybe the volume will come up, too. Doug Pederson is now at the helm for the Jags, and during his time in Philly as the head coach from 2016-2020, the Eagles ranked inside the top-13 in pass attempts per game every year. Look for Jacksonville to be a pass-first team under Pederson in 2022. Of course, let’s put some context around this. Do I actually think Christian Kirk can finish as a top-5 fantasy WR? No, of course not. But can he finish somewhere in the WR15-24 range and be a real league winner at his WR47 ADP? It’s not that far out of the question.


Sean E says:

Michael Thomas??? I feel as if he fits the criteria somewhat well and I expect some good things from him this year.

Chris O says:

Glad I drafted Sutton, Kirk and JuJu in my start up Dynasty draft this year. 👍🏻

Aaron says:

Thought I’d see Michael Thomas on this list. Or, by your criteria, 2015’s WR21 Sammy Watkins.

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