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2021 Comeback Player

By Kevin English 7:08am EDT 8/2/21

Our 2021 Comeback Pick played hurt last season ... but still finished top 10 among WRs in catches.

It was really some bad TD luck that made him a fantasy disappointment.

Now healthy, still in his prime and with an upgrade at QB, Rams WR Cooper Kupp is ready to turn in a big bounce-back 2021 season.

2020 Health Struggles

Kupp dealt with 2 different knee issues last year. Here's what he's told us about that this offseason:

“[Knee] Bursitis is something I dealt with during the course of the year,” he said in June, via USA Today. “At the end of the day, it really wasn’t what kept me out of that last game…It was a de-gloving injury. It wasn’t bursitis. I dealt with bursitis early in that year but it wasn’t anything, was playing through that just fine, so I’m not too worried about that, obviously.”

So Kupp likely felt some combination of swelling, pain and stiffness — symptoms of bursitis, per WebMD. Nothing too crazy for an NFL athlete.

Now, for the degloving injury Kupp referenced (from the Wild Card Round):

“I think we had 12-15 needles put into my knee that week just trying to figure out – whether it’s numbing the pain or pulling fluid out – all the different things you’re trying to do just to get back on the field. We honestly didn’t call that until the last second in terms of I wasn’t going to be able to go, which was a heartbreaker, but that thing really ended up tearing out for a good portion of the offseason, in terms of the time it took to get that thing going. It was a weekly process getting someone to come out every single day of the offseason, try to work through that so I could get back training again. But it’s feeling great now, no issues with it.”

It’s surprising to hear how Kupp tried to play hurt. Even more so when you read WebMD’s description of degloving:

Degloving happens when a large piece of skin and the layer of soft tissue right under it partially or completely rip from your body. These layers of skin don't receive blood even if they are still attached to the injured area.

Sounds brutal.

But the main takeaway is that Kupp — who participated in OTAs — is back at full health now. Kupp’s last regular season absence due to injury was Week 10 of 2018 (ACL tear).

He played all 16 games in 2019 and rolled up 94-1,161-10 — WR4 numbers behind Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin and Julio Jones.

2020 Performance

While Kupp wasn’t a 2020 fantasy stud, it’s not like his play really declined. He ranked a respectable 28th in yards per route run among 87 WRs with 50+ targets. He finished 30th in Pro Football Focus' receiving grades. And, per PFF, Kupp tied for 6th in missed tackles forced per reception.

Perhaps most impressively, Kupp — and HC Sean McVay’s scheme — found ways to exploit soft spots in defenses. According to Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception charting, Kupp recorded an 80th percentile success rate vs. zone coverage.

And get this: Over the past 4 seasons, no WR has been better at both getting open and gaining yards after the catch.

Note: PFF charts “open” receivers as those with 2+ yards of separation at the catch point.

TD Drought

Kupp's poor fantasy performance last year came down to a lack of scoring.

He scored only 3 times on 92 catches -- a measly 3.3% TD rate. For comparison, Kupp scored on 10.7% of his receptions over his first 3 NFL seasons. The league-wide TD rate for all WRs from 2018 to 2020 was 8.0%.

It's worth noting that Kupp's scoring chances declined from 2019 to 2020. The Rams went from 70 passes inside the red zone in 2019 to 56 last year; and from 37 passes inside the 10 to 25. Kupp’s share of targets in those areas also declined: from 26% to 21% in the red zone and from 27% to 20% inside the 10. The result was a dip from 7 red-zone TDs in 2019 to just 2 last year; and from 6 scores inside the 10 to 1.

Expect Kupp's scoring opportunities to rebound in 2021, though, thanks to a significant upgrade at QB.

New Environment

HC Sean McVay returns for year 5, looking for a 6th straight top-13 finish in total yards and passing yards.

Matthew Stafford enters year 13 looking to supply an upgrade. By just about any advanced metric, we have reason to believe he’ll far out-perform Jared Goff.

Here’s how the pair performed last year in several key categories:

Stafford’s simply the superior overall passer — and he brings the more aggressive approach. Back in 2019 — with a healthy Kenny Golladay — Stafford led the league with an 11.4-yard average depth of target.

The Rams lost WR Josh Reynolds and TE Gerald Everett, who combined for 143 targets last year, in free agency. They were clearly looking to add speed in their place.

First came the March signing of DeSean Jackson, an undeniable deep threat with a worrisome injury past. In 2020 alone, he suffered 3 ankle injuries (including a fracture) and a hamstring strain. The 34-year-old has missed 28 games over the past 3 seasons, so we can’t reasonably expect him to make it through a full slate.

The same concern arises for Tutu Atwell, Los Angeles' Round 2 pick. He's an explosive athlete but stands just 5'8 and 155 pounds. Our pre-draft scouting report shows how guys at that size just don't produce in the NFL.

In short: Don't expect a dip in volume for Kupp. Our current projections have him pegged for 135 targets -- 15th most at WR.

Backfield Impact

Cam Akers' Achilles tear robs the Rams of a potential breakout star. At minimum, his loss puts a serious strain on the backfield depth.

While we expect a veteran signing or trade, currently rostered RBs include:

Darrell Henderson (2019 3rd round pick)

Xavier Jones (2020 UDFA)

Jake Funk (2021 7th round pick)

Raymond Calais (2020 7th round pick)

Otis Anderson (2021 UDFA)

Henderson brings big-play ability but goes just 5'8, 208 pounds. He's the only back on the roster with an NFL snap on offense.

So it's quite possible that rush efficiency takes a step back -- and the pass volume a step forward. Here's what we wrote in our article dissecting the impact of Akers' injury:

"Between the loss of Akers and arrival of Matt Stafford, we could see the Rams lean significantly more on the passing game this season. They've been between 54.5% and 56.5% pass in 3 of McVay's 4 seasons. But when the running game struggled in 2019, they threw it on 62% of their plays. We could see a similar run/pass split in 2021."

That 62% pass rate ranked 5th league-wide in 2019 and would have ranked 4th last year. Such a development would lift the lid off Kupp's target upside.

2021 Cost

Kupp's ADP is currently sitting in the late 4th or early 5th round depending on where you're drafting. He's generally going well outside the top 15 WRs.

He turns up at PPR WR13 for us, roughly 2 points behind Terry McLaurin. So we're essentially talking about a WR1 that you can get for a WR2 price.

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