How Rams’ Cooper Kupp went from unrecruited to FCS college star to one of NFL’s best slot receivers
When Cooper Kupp finished playing his senior season of high school football, it didn’t look like he was going to be playing football at the next level — at least not on a scholarship.
Kupp had no scholarship offers until three weeks after his senior season, per ESPN. Despite the fact that both his father Craig Kupp and grandfather Jake Kupp played in the NFL, no coach responded to the tape that he had sent out.
Nine years later, Kupp is one of the NFL’s best receivers. The 6-2 playmaker operates out of the slot for the Rams and has put forth a stellar start to the 2021 NFL season. He has established a strong rapport with Matthew Stafford and ranks as the No. 1 fantasy football receiver in most formats.
How did Kupp reach this height? It was a long journey for him that started in the FCS. Here’s a look at how Kupp rose through the ranks to become the Rams’ top pass-catching weapon.
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Cooper Kupp college career
Kupp went to Eastern Washington during his college career. The FCS school is most noted for its field, which is comprised of red turf and known affectionately as “The Inferno.” Per NCAA.com, Kupp chose to go to Eastern Washington over an offer from Idaho State.
Kupp blossomed playing for the Eagles. He helped Eastern Washington to a 41-11 record during his time with the team and set numerous NCAA records. This included the NCAA’s all-time receiving yards record (6,464 yards), and below are the FCS records that belong to him:
|Career receiving yards per game||124.3|
|Average TDs per game||1.4|
|Games with at least 100 receiving yards||31|
|Consecutive games with a reception||52|
Kupp’s strong play put him on the map ahead of the 2017 NFL Draft. He was considered one of the top receiver prospects in a strong draft class that also featured Mike Williams, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Curtis Samuel.
“He didn’t waste a minute, ever,” then-Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin said of Kupp in 2017, per ESPN. “I know a lot of people say it, but he truly wasn’t going to let anyone outwork him.”
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Why the Rams drafted Cooper Kupp
The Rams eventually drafted Kupp in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He was the seventh receiver chosen and was the 69th overall pick at the beginning of the third round.
Rams coach Sean McVay was “excited” to land Kupp at that point in the draft. He raved about Kupp’s intelligence and said that he was one of the most pro-ready receivers he had evaluated.
“I think he’s wired the right way,” McVay said of Kupp in a post-draft press conference. “You can see he’s always got a plan at the line of scrimmage with how he’s going to work versus different coverages and where the holes are in that coverage. He’s got great hands.
“You see a guy that understands the game,” McVay added. “You watch him play, you see he’s got those pre-snap plans that, a lot of times, you don’t see. He is one of the more polished college receivers that I’ve evaluated coming out in a while.”
McVay’s assessment ended up being right on, as Kupp progressed quickly with the Rams.
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Cooper Kupp’s first four years with Rams
Kupp burst onto the scene and recorded 869 receiving yards and five touchdowns. This came to the surprise of nobody, least of all, Sean McVay.
“I think one of the things that really impressed us about Cooper, just watching him in college is that one of those receivers that sees the game through the quarterback’s eyes,” McVay said in a press conference in August of 2017. “He always has a plan at the line of scrimmage, understands coverages and route concepts and I think that’s what enables him to be such a productive player and very advanced for a rookie.
“He’s one of the more mature rookies that I’ve ever been around and we’re expecting some good things from him moving forward.”
The Rams were hopeful that Kupp would parlay that into a bigger role in 2018. He played well to start the season and totaled 50 catches for 566 yards and six touchdowns in eight games. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL and missed the latter half of the season.
Kupp made a full recovery ahead of the 2019 season. He put together his best season to date, racking up 94 catches, 1,161 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. That included a game in which he recorded a career-high 220 receiving yards.
In 2020, Kupp came just shy of back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons while posting 92 catches, 974 yards and three TDs. His profile continued to rise, and he drew praise from another of the NFL’s elite receivers, Davante Adams.
Cooper Kupp is the most underrated receiver in the league.
— Davante Adams (@tae15adams) November 24, 2020
And a year later, Kupp has ascended to another level, thanks, in part, to his new quarterback.
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Cooper Kupp’s connection with Matthew Stafford, Ocho route
After two weeks with Matthew Stafford, Kupp had two 100-yard receiving games, and it became clear that he and Stafford were becoming a dynamic duo. All you had to do was listen to Stafford talk about Kupp in wake of the Rams’ 24-21 win over the Colts in Week 2.
“He’s one of those guys that’s about as overlooked as anybody in the league,” Stafford said of Kupp in his press conference. “He’s extremely talented, does everything that we ask him to do, whether it’s blocking for his other guys on the team, whether it be receivers or running backs, running down the field making big plays, catching the ball behind the line of scrimmage and going for big plays. He’s a really talented player, and I’m just happy that I get to work with him.”
Stafford is surely making that known. He has already targeted Kupp 46 times through four games. Kupp has 431 yards and an NFL-high five touchdowns on the season and is proving that he is one of the NFL’s best receivers.
Not only is Kupp on pace for a career year, but he’s making moves that few have ever made on the football field. This includes running the “Ocho” route, a move that he created. Essentially, he pretends to run a pivot on the play and breaks back to the outside while stopping the defensive back in his tracks.
In fact, Kupp has been so lethal as a route runner that teams have been focusing on him on third downs to make the Rams offense sputter. Byron Murphy of the Cardinals acknowledged that was a big part of their game plan in Arizona’s 37-20 win over Los Angeles.
“We know what type of player he is,” Murphy said. “This week (he) was emphasized because we know on third downs, he’s a favorite target.”
Kupp will continue to draw a lot of attention the rest of the season. He was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for September, after all, and grades out as a top-10 NFL receiver, per Pro Football Focus.
Not bad for a kid who didn’t have a college offer until three weeks after his senior season concluded.
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