Historical Comps for Cooper Kupp’s Rookie Season
With the dust still settling on the 2017 season, we continue our look back at the rookie crop through our RotoViz crystal ball, aka the Screener App. While the Screener can’t forsee the future, it can give us a good idea of a player’s range of outcomes heading into their second year.
Next up, a look at one of the unlikeliest rookie heroes in 2017, Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp. In last year’s pre-draft process, Kupp wasn’t exactly a RotoViz darling, getting smashed by 40-yard-dash hero John Ross in our Sweet 16 Tournament. Kupp got the last laugh, though, putting up a 62-869-5TD rookie line, while Ross failed to register a single catch in the only three games he was active. The Rams slot receiver ultimately led all rookies in targets and catches and was second to JuJu Smith-Schuster in yards and PPR points.
I set the RotoViz Screener to search for comparable rookie WR seasons between 2007 and 2017 based on a number of statistical outputs, including age, weight, and draft pick. Where a player is selected in the NFL draft still has influence in his second season, though that influence does decline over time.
Here are Kupp’s top-five most comparable players, excluding fellow 2017 rookies.
It’s an encouraging list of comparables, with nary an outright bust in sight. Kupp holds his own among these peers in terms of rookie efficiency (fantasy points over expectation (FPOE)), and had the third-most receiving yards among this group, just three yards shy of TY Hilton.
Hilton is a smaller, more vertical threat, but statistically, there was very little difference between the two freshman campaigns, with just three catches and four targets between them.
Torrey Smith makes for a strong comparison, although he too is a more of a big-play WR than Kupp. However, they are similar in stature, both were selected in almost the exact same part of the NFL draft, and both finished within less than a point of each other in PPR scoring as rookies.
Austin Collie is also a good comp, though he was drafted quite a bit later. But he also played as a 24-year-old rookie, drawing a similar amount of targets as Kupp while being less efficient with them. Keep in mind, however, that Collie was catching passes from a quarterback in Peyton Manning who could make any WR look good.
Kupp and Terrance Williams had the exact same efficiency numbers as rookies, but the former was much more involved in his team’s offense. Still, with just four pounds and five draft slots between them, it’s a very fair comparison.
As a target machine and someone who has 17 pounds on Kupp, Dwayne Bowe might be a bit of a stretch, with the only glaring similarity being their age. Kupp was also considerably more efficient than Bowe, and they went in different parts of the draft.
Now that we have a solid list of players to work from, let’s look at what they did in their second seasons, in the hopes of gaining a rough idea of what to expect from Kupp in Year 2.
Here we see a few of our comparables take a small step forward, while others take a small step back. The exception is Hilton, who made a big leap, parlaying elite quarterback play and deep-ball skills into a WR19 finish as a sophomore. He would go on to post four-straight 1,000-yard seasons, including years with 1,345 and 1,448 receiving yards. While it’s tempting to cast Kupp in a similar light, he doesn’t have Hilton’s frame or explosiveness – nor the elite QB – to match those numbers.
My expectation for Kupp is more along the lines of what we saw from the rest of this group, save for Bowe, who drew the kind of elite target load that is unlikely to be in Kupp’s range of outcomes. Smith, Collie, and Williams, however, all stayed within a similar range of numbers, with only their efficiency ratings seeing much change.
PROS AND CONS
For me, the good news and the bad news for Kupp boil down to the same thing. Coming out of college at 24-years old following a very productive college career, he was already a highly-polished product. While that was great news for his prospects as a rookie, it also means that entering his age-25 season Kupp may not have a lot of room to improve and is already approaching something close to his ceiling.
And while Kupp could see more targets in 2018, it’s also a reasonable expectation that that Rams regress somewhat from their incredible 2017 campaign which saw them lead the league in scoring after bringing up the rear the year before.
Considering the Rams elite offensive output in 2017 and Kupp’s advanced age, he’s going to be a guy who has to rely on more targets in order to take a step forward statistically. It’s difficult to pin any realistic hopes of a 25-year old remodeling his game or bettering his physical skills in any way that makes an significant impact.
My prediction for Kupp in 2018 is that he’ll follow a similar range of outcomes that we saw with Smith, Collie, and Williams — a modest increase in yardage and a few more TDs, making his best case scenario a mid-to-back-end WR2 in 2018.