Cooper Kupp is arguably the most prolific receiver in NCAA history—certainly in FCS history. He amassed 428 catches for 6,464 yards and 73 TDs during his four seasons at Eastern Washington. Draft analysts project him to go as high as the second round and as low as the fifth round. Considering his production and possible pedigree, we ought to get to know him.
To say Kupp’s career numbers stand out is a comical understatement. He holds the all-time records for career receptions and receiving yards at all levels of NCAA football. No FBS or FCS player has more career receiving touchdowns. No FCS player owns a higher career yards-per-game average—not even Jerry Rice.
But before we get too excited, we need to put those numbers in some context. First, note that Eastern Washington regularly played 15-game seasons, which helped to boost Kupp’s counting stats. Even so, he impressed on a per-game basis.
However, Kupp played his career in one of the most productive passing offenses ever. Eastern Washington led the FCS in passing yards each of Kupp’s final two seasons, and they ranked inside the top four in each of his first two. In 2016, only two schools in the entire NCAA (one of them a Division III school) threw for more yards per game than Eastern Washington. This makes his market share numbers much lower than his raw production would suggest.
|Season||MS Yds||MS TDs||Dominator|
In other words, Kupp was not as dominant as you would think by looking at his career stats.
Evaluating Kupp’s production gets more difficult when you realize his final collegiate season was not his best season. Using Kevin Cole’s regression tree for WR prospects, we find that Kupp lands in drastically different nodes depending on which season we look at. If we take his best season—his junior season—he ends up in the rightmost node on the tree. Landing in this node has historically translated to a 61 percent success rate. But, if we look at his final season, he lands in the right branch’s leftmost node. Players in that node have been successful less than four percent of the time.
In case you thought Kupp wasn’t already puzzling enough, there are more reasons both for caution and for hope. Kupp is a redshirt senior who will turn 24 before the NFL season begins, making him one of the oldest receivers in the draft. To put that into some perspective, Kupp is more than a full year older than Amari Cooper, who is entering his third NFL season. He’s about three months older than Mike Evans, who is entering his fourth season.
Now, current age isn’t everything. One thing we like to measure at RotoViz is breakout age, which is simply the age at which a college player first achieved a Dominator Rating of 0.30.1 Kupp has been productive for four years, so he broke out earlier than many other prospects who enter the draft at his age. On the other hand, because he is so old, his breakout age is not as impressive as other players with four years of elite production, such as fellow 2017 prospect Corey Davis.
|Player||Breakout Age||Dominator Rating|
Kupp’s breakout age of 20.5 puts him just above the 50th percentile—decent, but not what you’d expect for a player who’s been so good for so long.
We also need to consider Kupp’s competition. Playing in the FCS, Kupp rarely faced off against top-level talent. We must take that into account when interpreting his career performance. On the other hand, he did play a game against a Pac-12 opponent in each of his four seasons.
|Season||Opponent||Receptions||Yards||YPR||Touchdowns||MS Yds||MS TDs||Dominator|
As you can see, he absolutely smashed against the Pac-12.2 Oregon was ranked seventh in the nation when they played Eastern Washington. Oregon State was ranked 25th.
At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, Kupp is about the same size as 2016 RotoViz darling Tajae Sharpe. And the comparison fits in another way. Sharpe also had elite production against relatively soft competition. At 0.35, Kupp’s career market share of receiving yards is very close to Sharpe’s 0.31. The comparison only goes so far, however, since Sharpe produced at an extremely young age.3 Still, a look at Sharpe’s comparables may be instructive.
Sharpe was drafted in the fifth round, which is the latest Kupp is expected to go. I’ve included career games as a proxy for age—basically to ensure that all the listed comps played four years of college football. A few of the names here are encouraging, but recall that this list of similar players is once removed from Kupp and based on a comparison which is itself not entirely accurate.
Kupp is an ultra-productive prospect who got some help by playing in an ultra-productive offense. He’s older than most of his peers, often by quite a bit, though he did break out at a comparable age to many of his peers. He often faced lesser competition, but he excelled at raising his game against tough opponents.
Honestly, I’m still not sure how to rate Kupp among the 2017 receiver class. He’s a proven performer who could very well have a productive NFL career if he lands in the right spot. If an NFL team uses a second-round pick on him, he’ll likely be given an opportunity to produce. In that case he could be an intriguing dynasty rookie draft pick. If he falls to the fifth round, he could easily be buried on a team’s depth chart and may not see the field much at all. The most likely outcome falls somewhere in the middle. If he ends up in a good situation and can be acquired at a reasonable price, I’ll buy some shares. At the very least, Kupp is someone I’ll pay close attention to over the coming weeks and months.
- Dominator Rating averages a player’s market share of yards and market share of TDs to arrive at a single measure of how dominant that player was within his team’s offense. (back)
- Though it should be noted that his team averaged over 460 receiving yards and five receiving TDs in those games. (back)
- Sharpe’s breakout age of 18.7 puts him in the 94th percentile. (back)