There are some things in life that are talked about a lot but it still doesn’t do them justice. Racial inequality, climate change, and Ted Lasso all fall into this category. After Super Bowl 56 on Sunday, we got another entry into that group: Cooper Kupp’s 2021 season.
You may be questioning me right now because you have probably heard about Kupp a lot this season, which is incredibly justified. But the things being said about Kupp are not lauding him nearly enough. This is where I step in and fully explain why Kupp just put together the best wide receiver season of all time by going through some of the most important numbers from his season.
19: Players to catch multiple touchdowns in a single Super Bowl
When you grab eight catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns in a game and it is a little underwhelming, that says a whole lot. Kupp had a great game in the Super Bowl, joining an elite group of players that have scored more than one receiving touchdown in the biggest game of the season. His Super Bowl stat line was not as good as his numbers from the previous two games (20 catches for 325 yards and three touchdowns) but when you factor in the increased pressure it is still impressive. The fact that four of those catches came on the Rams’ game-winning drive when it was very obvious he was going to get the ball, is even more impressive. Throw in the fact that he also caught the game-winning touchdown and you have the perfect capper to an all-time season.
13: Games, including playoffs, with over 100 yards
Before this season there probably weren’t a lot of people that could tell you that Michael Irvin held the record for most 100-yard receiving games in a season with 12. It was a bit of an underrated record but is still a great feat considering it has stood since 1995 despite the increased offense in the league. What might be even more mind-blowing about Kupp’s season are the games that didn’t contribute to him breaking that record. Of the eight games that he didn’t hit the 100-yard mark, Kupp had 92 yards or more in six of them. He was a grand total of 32 yards away from a whopping 19 100-yard games in a season. If that doesn’t tell you how dominant Kupp was this season then I don’t know what else to tell you. . . oh, wait yes I do.
8: Wide receivers to win Super Bowl MVP
I mentioned Kupp’s Super Bowl stat line earlier, but what I didn’t mention was that his performance earned him the illustrious Super Bowl MVP award, putting him in a very exclusive category. Lynn Swann (1976), Fred Biletnikoff (1977), Jerry Rice (1989), Deion Branch (2005), Hines Ward (2006), Santonio Holmes (2009), and Julian Edelman (2019) are the other receivers to earn the award. If you are a math fan (which I am almost certain you are not) you may have noticed that receivers make up just 14 percent of all Super Bowl MVP winners, so that puts into perspective how rare Kupp’s accomplishment is.
4: Receiving Triple Crown winners
This may not be an official stat but the Receiving Triple Crown consists of leading the league in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns. Kupp did all of those things, joining Jerry Rice (1990), Sterling Sharpe (1992), and Steve Smith (2005) as the only wide receiver to do so. You may notice there are some very dominant and legendary receivers not on that list. Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, and every other receiver ever was not able to pull off what Kupp and those three other guys did. This is also not a record that people can’t argue is devalued by the 17-game season. The Triple Crown is not impacted by how many games are in a season, just the level of talent in the league. Considering the level of receiving talent in the league is the best it has ever been, that makes Kupp’s Triple Crown the most impressive of the bunch.
3: Wide receivers to win AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year
Kupp was not able to pull off the impossible and win MVP, something no wide receiver has ever done, despite receiving a vote, He did get a pretty nice consolation prize of Offensive Player of the Year. The award has been awarded 60 times and has gone to a quarterback or running back 56 of those times. Kupp joins Jerry Rice (1987 and 1993) and Michael Thomas (2019) as the only receivers to win the award. Of all the incredible wide receiver seasons that have happened over the last 60 decades, Kupp’s is one of the very few that has been deemed not only the best receiver season of the year but the best offensive player performance of the year.
3: Players with over 140 receptions in a season
Marvin Harrison’s record of 143 catches in a season stood for 17 years before Michael Thomas took it down by reeling in 149 balls in 2019. Kupp slotted in nicely right in between those guys this year by catching 145 passes this year. Harrison had Peyton Manning and Thomas had Drew Brees, meanwhile, Kupp had Matthew Stafford. It’s not like Stafford is a bum but it is hard to put him in the same echelon as Manning and Brees. Also, this was Kupp and Stafford’s first season playing together. Harrison and Manning had a few years to forge their legendary connection and Thomas and Brees had time to get used to playing with each other. Kupp and Stafford had less than a year together and instantly developed one of the most potent connections of all time.
2: Players with over 1,900 receiving yards in a season
Speaking of Stafford, his old pal Calvin Johnson is the only player to rack up more receiving yards than Kupp did this year. Johnson’s 1,964 yards in 2012 also came while catching passes from Stafford, just like Kupp’s 1,947 yards this season. While it is insane that the same quarterback fueled the two highest receiving yardage seasons of all time, it is even more insane that Johnson and Kupp are almost equal in that regard. Johnson is one of the most athletically gifted players to ever play the wide receiver position. He was 6-foot-5, 237 pounds, yet ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash. If a Greek God played in the NFL he would basically be Calvin Johnson. On the other hand, Kupp is 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, and ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash. He also played his college football at Eastern Washington University and was a third-round pick, while Johnson was the second overall pick out of Georgia Tech. What all that represents is that Johnson is the type of receiver that people expected to rack up that many receiving yards, Kupp certainly was not expected to do this.
2nd: In receiving touchdowns and receiving yards in a postseason
Larry Fitzgerald had an incredible run in the 2008 playoffs when he caught seven touchdown passes. Kupp was not able to surpass Fitzgerald but he got very close with his six touchdowns in the 2021 playoffs. He equaled Jerry Rice’s total in 1988, which puts those three above every other postseason pass catcher. Kupp didn’t rely on one big game to get his touchdowns (like Gabriel Davis having five because of his huge four-touchdown game against the Chiefs). He was a consistent scoring threat throughout the postseason, scoring in each of the four Rams’ playoff games. Fitzgerald is also the record holder for receiving yards in a postseason with a staggering 546 yards in those same 2008 playoffs. Kupp wasn’t quite able to get to that number but he is firmly in second place with the 478 yards he racked up. Fitzgerald had insane consistency, with over 100 yards every game, but he never reached 183 yards which was Kupp’s best performance of the 2021 playoffs.
1st: In receptions in a postseason
While Kupp couldn’t surpass Fitzgerald in receiving touchdowns and yards in a postseason, he was able to grab the record for most receptions in a postseason. Fitzgerald didn’t actually hold this one, Travis Kelce surpassed him by one last season, but the point is that no one has ever caught more balls in a single postseason than Kupp’s 33 this season. This might be the most telling of the three postseason stats because it is the most reliable. Touchdowns and yards can sometimes be fluky and not an indication of actual performance. Receptions are a perfect barometer of just how involved in the offense a player is, and no one beats Kupp in that regard. He is one of the very few players that can get the ball anywhere on the field and be a threat to make a huge player. Whether it is a shot play down the field, a bubble screen behind the line of scrimmage, or a handoff (he also had two carries in the postseason), Kupp is a threat. The Rams were extremely dedicated to getting the ball in Kupp’s this postseason, and it clearly paid off.
1: Player to do it all in one season
You may have noticed there is a name that popped up quite a bit throughout all these numbers: Jerry Rice. The unquestioned and absolute GOAT of the wide receiver position. Before the 2021 season, he was the only receiver to win the Receiving Triple Crown, Offensive Player of the Year Award, and Super Bowl MVP award. Three of the most illustrious and elusive achievements in pass-catching were all done by one man. But not just any man, the best to ever do it. Rice accomplished all those over the course of his Hall-of-Fame career, needing four seasons between 1987 and 1990 to rack up the three honors. Kupp just did it in one season. He just pulled off something in one season that took the greatest receiver ever four years. I am not trying to claim that Kupp is better than Rice, we all can agree that is not the case. I am just trying to put into perspective how difficult it is for a player to have the type of season Kupp just had. The level of statistical dominance that Kupp displayed during the 2021 season is unmatched by anyone in the NFL right now and possibly ever and we aren’t talking about it enough. If you have made it this far and are reading this right now please go out there and fulfill your civic duty of telling someone just how good Cooper Kupp’s 2021 season really was. Thank you.