Cooper Kupp has always been an underdog.
I had no stars coming out of high school, based on 247Sports composite rankings, and he didn’t even get an offer to play for Eastern Washington until three weeks after the end of his senior year in high school. Kupp proceeded to set FCS records for receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464) and receiving touchdowns (73).
On Sunday, the 2017 third-round pick is poised to set another record, this one in the NFL. Kupp has amassed 1,829 receiving yards in 2021, leading the NFL by far. And when he takes the field for the last time in the 2021 regular season, he’ll have a chance to break the record for yards per reception in a season set in 2012 by Calvin Johnson.
Record yards per reception in a single NFL season
“Megatron” had one of the best runs of any receiver in the NFL, and in 2012 he was at the height of his dominance in the league.
He caught 122 passes that season and had 1,964 receiving yards, breaking Jerry Rice’s 1995 record of 1,848 yards. Johnson was off to a seemingly normal start to the year, catching 41 passes for 638 yards in the first seven games of the season. Yet for the final nine games of the season he was on fire, catching 81 passes for 1,326 yards with four touchdowns. He averaged 147.3 yards per game during that stretch.
Since then, only three players have come close to Johnson’s record. In 2015, both Julio Jones and Antonio Brown competed to see who would lead the league in receiving yards. Jones finished the season with 1,871 and Brown was second with 1,834. Entering the final week of the 2021 season, those two brands rank second and fourth for receiving yards in a single season.
Kupp has now entered the conversation. He has the fifth-most receiving yards in a single season and numbers to pass both Jones and Brown on at least Sunday to move to second. The question will be whether he can move on to Johnson to claim the record.
How many receiving yards does Cooper Kupp have in 2021?
Kupp has had an extraordinary season. His 1,829 receiving yards lead the league by over 300, and his 138 receptions are the most by over 20. The next closest player in receiving yards is Justin Jefferson of the Vikings, who has just 1,509, while Davante Adams of the Packers are second in receptions at 117.
Can Kupp hit Johnson’s record? This is how he has accumulated those yards this season.
Kupp hasn’t had the kind of explosive one-game performances that Johnson had during his 2012 campaign. Johnson had two games with more than 200 yards per reception and two more with at least 160. Kupp only once this season reached. 160 yards (163 in Week 2).
But just as Johnson finished the season strong, so has Kupp. In his last seven games, Kupp has caught 64 passes for 810 yards, averaging 115.7 yards per game. During that span, four games have seen him record at least 120 yards per reception.
The first game of that stretch came against the 49ers, where he caught 11 passes for 122 yards. If he did repeat that performance, he would be shy in pursuit of the receiving yards record, but would tie Michael Thomas’ record for receptions of a season in 2019 at 149.
Kupp needs 136 yards to break Johnson’s record for receiving yards. He had exactly 136 against the Seahawks in Week 15 and twice this season he has had at least that many.
The only other one-season record chase currently underway is that of Steelers linebacker TJ Watt, who is chasing Michael Strahan’s one-season sack record. Watt missed two games and will therefore finish the season in 15.
Therefore, Kupp will be one of the first players ever put to the test with the record should he beat Johnson. In 16 games, Kupp is still 135 yards behind Johnson. But Kupp will have the added benefit of a 17-game season, while Johnson played 16 games in 2012.
Even Kupp has acknowledged that breaking the record would come under unique circumstances.
“What the guys that set those records did – Mike Thomas, Randy Moss for touchdowns, what Calvin Johnson did with yards, what those guys did in 16 games, it doesn’t seem right that they break in 17 games.” Kupp said, according to the rams. “It wouldn’t carry the same weight for me as it would for guys who’ve done it in a 16-game season. The accomplishments that those guys had, the seasons that they accomplished together, those are incredible accomplishments, so you have to separate the two. We are here. in a new era of football here where we are playing 17 games a year. A lot of the things that happened before that, I think those records have a different weight, as they were played in those 16 games. “
It won’t be easy for Kupp to set the new receiving yards mark. The 49ers have allowed the 28th fewest receiving yards this season at just 3,309. But if anyone can help Kupp break the record, it’s Matthew Stafford. The current Rams quarterback was under center pitching Johnson for the record season, and now he has a chance to help another receiver set the mark.