The year is 2023, and I am still hyping up Cooper Kupp in fantasy football. This is the third consecutive year that Kupp feels underrated as we go into draft season. According to Sleeper, he is the WR3 off the board, but he can go as late as the WR5. He is somewhere in the mix of Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase, Tyreek Hill, and Davante Adams. Justin Jefferson is usually the 1.01.
Now, all four of Kupp’s competitors are elite receivers—the best of the best. But Kupp is still the WR1 this year. This is what I’m here to tell you. One would think that wouldn’t be hard because, well, you know, he’s Cooper Kupp. But when players get injured and miss half a season, it gets held against them more than when they have a down year.
Kupp missed a little less than half the year in 2022. However, in the other half, a healthy Kupp was as good as he has ever been. So don’t let the injury ruin your 2023 expectations. Just a heads up, the fantasy points and fantasy points per game are in points-per-reception (“PPR”) format. If you play half-point ppr, it’s still more or less the same, just the scores are lower. So, let’s get started.
Cooper Kupp 2023 Fantasy Football Outlook
Kupp’s 2021 season was one of the greatest wide receiver seasons of all time. I feel like the community needs the reminder. Kupp had 191 targets, 145 receptions, 1947 yards, and 16 total touchdowns. He nearly set the single-season receiving record in multiple categories. This resulted in over 25 fantasy points per game (“ppg”). That was 90 more points than the WR2 in 2021, Davante Adams. It was also over 100 more points than the WR1 from last year, the first receiver off the board this year, Justin Jefferson.
Remember the Kupp-zone from my 2022 article? Remember how Kupp had 38 red zone targets and led the league in redzone targets, 10-zone targets, 5-zone targets, and touchdowns within the redzone? He blew away every other wide receiver in almost every category down there. That’s why I deemed it the Kupp-zone.
With such dominance outside the redzone and between the twenties, why on earth was he not the unanimous WR1 in average draft position before the 2022 season? Why was it, Justin Jefferson? There were three common explanations that I talked about in that 2022 article. Those reasons were people believed Justin Jefferson would blow up, the arrival of Allen Robinson, and likely regressions to the mean. Nobody but me thought Kupp could repeat his 2021. These things, amongst others, really didn’t matter. The only thing that stopped Cooper Kupp from repeating was health. Let’s fast forward to 2022.
What Happened in 2022?
Cooper Kupp played in eight full games before he was injured in Week 10. Before the injury, it was quite the encore performance coming off his historic 2021 season. Kupp had 93 targets, 72 receptions, 813 yards, and six touchdowns in those eight full games. Even though he missed more than seven games, Kupp finished as a top-24 wide receiver!
Kupp’s pace before Week 9 was nearly 25 points per game, which, again, was the WR1 on the year. His 17-game pace would have been 198 targets, 153 receptions, 1728 yards, and 13 touchdowns. That is wild! So much for the regression narrative, huh? Kupp regressed by only about eight total fantasy points before he got hurt. That’s why I mentioned the injury being the only thing that stopped Kupp from repeating again as the overall WR1. That is unbelievable because it wasn’t all roses for Kupp in the redzone or for the Rams. It was honestly as if all the roses had died for the Rams’ offense, and the thorns had multiplied by a million. It was bad. Let me explain that and the regression in the Kupp-zone and why it didn’t matter.
Everything that could have gone wrong for the Rams’ offense did go wrong. There’s a law for that—end of subsection.
Just kidding. But where to start? How about the injuries? There were at least fifteen injuries to starting offensive linemen for the Rams. The center, the starting left tackle (the heir apparent to Andrew Whitworth), the backup left tackle, and multiple guards missed substantial parts of the season. They were probably another couple of injuries away from running open tryouts to defend the likes of Nick Bosa at tackle. Vince Papale would not have been cut out for this story, either. So, you all see the root of the problem, right? Matt Stafford only played in nine games. The Rams had to endure four games of John Wolford and Bryce Perkins throwing the ball (YIKES). Also, Allen Robinson and Van Jefferson missed a total of 13 games. These injuries destroyed the Rams’ offense.
In 2022, the Rams were seventh in the league, with 27.1 points per game. Stafford had 41 passing touchdowns. The entire Rams team last year only had 16 passing touchdowns. The Rams were 27th in the league, with only 18.1 points per game. The Rams were 27th in the league in passing yards per game too. It could not have been worse.
That pace led Kupp’s red zone targets to go down from 38 targets in 17 games to 11 in eight games and some change. If that trend continued, then Kupp would have around 22 red zone targets, as many as Amon Ra St. Brown and Christian Kirk, and 16 fewer than in 2022. Despite the injuries, the bottom falling out of the Rams’ offense, and a regression in the Kupp-zone, Kupp was still the WR1 in points per game last year. So what happened with the other wide receivers going before or right after Kupp so fast in mock drafts this year?
Other Elite WRs
Justin Jefferson was the overall WR1 last year. He is the consensus 1.01 overall in mock drafts so far this year. The reason is he had an amazing 2022 that was built on an awesome top-5 caliber 2021. That is unless you had him and you were in the championship last year. Ouch. But I digress.
In 2022, Jefferson went from a 2021 season of 167 targets, 108 receptions, and 1616 yards to 184 targets, 128 receptions, and 1809 yards. His touchdowns dipped from ten to eight, but there’s room for growth due to his league-leading 28 redzone targets. How did that translate to fantasy, you might ask? Jefferson was the overall WR1 last year in fantasy and put up 21.7 ppr fantasy points per game. To put that into context, Davante Adams and Deebo Samuel were the WR2 and 3 in 2021, with 21.5 and 21.2 points per game. Tyreek Hill was the WR2 with 21.9 in 2020. Both years’ weekly score in the 21ppg range was 4-5 ppg shy of the WR1 pace.
Despite the bump in targets, receptions, and yards, Jefferson’s weekly fantasy score only rose about two fantasy points per game in ppr scoring. Jefferson’s 19.4 points-per-game was fourth in 2021, and his 21.7 points per game this year would have been second to Cooper Kupp if Kupp played a whole season (24.8 before the injury). So there may not be much room to grow, either.
Yes, we expect a bump back up in touchdowns due to his red zone usage and the downtick in overall touchdowns From Cousins, but can his targets remain the same or improve? The Vikings traded in the ghost of Adam Thielen for a shiny new first-round WR in Jordan Addison that can immediately excel in the slot, should Minnesota put him there. The Vikings will also have a full 17 games of Hockenson, who had 86 targets in ten games. Therefore, I think he may be at his ceiling, give or take a few more ppr fantasy points. That means you are paying 1.01 overall prices for a ceiling that might be WR2-3 on the year. It’s fine, but you can do better.
If you aren’t convinced, then let’s bring up a few more popular names that are in contention for the WR1. Ja’Marr Chase, third-year WR for the Bengals, had a monster year last year. Chase had 87 receptions for over 1000 yards and 9 TDs in only 12 games. However, his yards per reception fell off a cliff in 2021 as they started using him more as a possession receiver.
The lack of big plays balanced out the jump in targets and receptions. This only led to about 20 fantasy points per game last year. I say only as if 20 ppr points per game is something to scoff at. It’s not. It should easily land him as a top-4 WR for the year. But why would you take that over the back-to-back weekly PPR champ in points-per-game, Cooper Kupp? Tee Higgins should bounce back, too, in a contract year.
Davante Adams. Adams was the WR3 last year overall behind Tyreek Hill and Justin Jefferson. Adams led the league in touchdowns and had a whopping 180 targets. However, his catch % fell off a cliff, and ten of those 14 touchdowns were from outside the redzone. Carr was bombing it to Adams every chance he could, but Adams wasn’t receiving the same love in the redzone with the same amount of redzone touchdowns as Cooper Kupp (9 games).
With a downgrade at QB this year, maybe even a downgrade from Jimmy Garoppolo, so it’s hard to say what Adams’ future holds. The bottom could fall out this year in redraft. When I say the bottom is falling out, I just mean his chances of being in the elite group. Adams should still receive 140-150 targets and be a threat for double-digit TDs, even with Bryan Hoyer throwing the ball, but in today’s NFL, that’s closer to WR10 than WR1—too much risk for me.
The first round in mock drafts is loaded with elite wide receivers. I think there are consistently seven receivers that go in the first round of mock drafts, if not more. If you want your shot at the WR1, you must pay for it. We have talked about three of the other four consensus top WRs for 2023, Kupp excluded. Tyreek Hill rounds out that top 5. I didn’t exclude a deeper dive into him on purpose. I just know if I make this article much longer, then Ryan or Josh may murder me. Allegedly.
So let’s keep it brief. Hill is coming off of a lot of career bests and should offer a ceiling and a floor inside the top-5. However, IF you are banking on the TD-upside of his Mahomes days to take him above Kupp, which was still inconsistent, it may not be the best bet early in the first round this year. I’ve made the case as to why I think Kupp can still beat these other four WRs. But Let’s still explore what we could expect from Kupp in 2023.
A Look Ahead to Kupp’s Potential 2023 Season
One of the biggest reasons why the community didn’t think Kupp could repeat last year was the addition of Allen Robinson. People thought Allen Robinson was going to command 150+ targets. Robinson finished with 52 targets and is now in Pittsburgh. Robinson is gone, and so are Brandon Powell and Darrell Henderson. The Rams have over 120 vacated targets, and to replenish the WR depth chart, they drafted Puka Nacua in the fifth round. Puka only had 91 receptions in his two years at BYU. He’s not a candidate for 90+ targets. Neither is Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, or Ben Skowronek. So what’s stopping Kupp from having another massive season, whether the offense is any good or not?
I mentioned earlier about the cliff that the Rams’ offense fell off, as well as the regression in the Kupp-zone (redzone). Kupp still had his WR1 year in fantasy ppg in ppr. I think there’s reason to believe why the Kupp-zone can return in 2023, or at least garner ten to eleven touchdowns, minimum, over a healthy season.
Last year Stafford only had 41 red zone pass attempts. Kupp had 11 of them. This 26-27% share of red zone targets would lead to maybe 26-27 red zone targets if both players played 17 games. Stafford had six touchdowns inside the ten. Kupp had three of them. In 2022, that number was 22 and 10. The percentage is still there. All of these numbers indicate to me that even if the Rams’ offense stays at the bottom (it won’t). A regression to the mean should work wonders for Kupp and this offense for fantasy football as a whole or a sum of its parts.
Finally, let’s crunch some numbers.
Give Stafford a modest 580 total pass attempts in 17 games. That’s not Tom Brady over 700. That’s also not Justin Fields. It’s a nice median expectation. With the Rams, complete lack of pass catchers and McVay’s refusal to use any RB in the passing game besides Todd Gurley, a 30% target share should be the floor here. Kupp can improve on that too. That means 180-185 targets, reasonably. Using his career numbers, that could lead to, say, 135 receptions, 1700 yards, and 10 receiving touchdowns. These are all reasonable, modest numbers that Kupp was on pace to blow by in 2021 before his injury. That was on a terrible team. He blew by these numbers in 2021 on a Super Bowl-winning team. So, where’s the argument against this? Anyone? Bueller?
This hypothetical stat line would give him more points per game than Justin Jefferson had last year as the season-long WR1. This is with room to grow and a floor that was on display last year with a genuinely atrocious offense. Give the Rams 17 healthy games on offense, and 2023 could look closer to 2021 than to 2022. Kupp’s injury is nothing to worry about long-term, either. The chatter was that he could have returned last season, but for what? He’s ready to go, and the 2021 Super Bowl Champs have a chip on their shoulder. Ride the Kupp WR1 season. Trust me.
A Look Inside the Los Angeles Rams
Editor’s Note: We don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Chris focused on Cooper Kupp in fantasy football, here is a quick look at the other fantasy-relevant Rams by Ryan Weisse.
While Kupp should bounce back in 2023, Stafford falls into the “old and busted” category. At 35 years old, last year’s QB32 can be avoided in all but 2-QB leagues. Baker Mayfield beat him in fantasy last year.
If you look at Akers’ last six games, the talent, and upside are undeniable. If you look at the first 11, you see why the Rams almost jettisoned him last year. He is risky but has league-winning potential. If you can land him as your RB3, he’s totally worth it. Any pricier, and I’d let others have him.
While Kupp is sure to command 50-70% of the target share…barely kidding…someone has to play WR2. Jefferson was only targeted 44 times in 11 games but did manage three TDs. He’s cheap in drafts, for good reason, but he could slide into a fantasy WR3 role if this offense turns around.
You likely don’t know much about this 5th-round pick, and that’s fine. But the long and short is that the Rams need weapons, and he’s fun to watch. He scored 16 total TDson 130 touches in his final two years at BYU. Five of those scores came in the running game. Sean McVay is one of the best at keeping his WRs in motion and involved close to the line of scrimmage, and Nacua fits that skill set. His comp is Deebo Samuel, and that could very well be how the Rams use him. He’s a fun late-round pick while we see how the depth chart shakes out.
Imagine a world where a TE sees 100+ targets, and you don’t want him on your fantasy team. That is the reality of Tyler Higbee. The Rams should be better this year, but if Higbee can’t hit 10 fantasy points per game with 108 targets, his ceiling is capped, to say the least. There are better lottery picks at TE.
We will be covering every team this offseason. So check back here often for all of our A Look Inside articles.