This FCS player could be one of CFB's best wide receivers
Some people might have been skeptical when former Oregon QB Vernon Adams claimed that Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp is the best receiver he ever played with. Even though Kupp breaks record after record, he still plays in the FCS after all. However, going back and evaluating his performances against Power-5 FBS opponents shows Kupp could make a case for one of the top wide receivers in college football.
Kupp dominated Washington’s defense in his sophomore season as he gained 145 yards on eight receptions. Furthermore, he had two receptions on two targets for 54 yards and two touchdowns against Marcus Peters — the NFL’s 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year. In 2015, he was the best player on the field against former teammate Adams’ Oregon Ducks. Kupp caught 15 of his 19 targets that day en route to a 246-yard performance that included three touchdowns as well. This Saturday he was unstoppable once again as he led the Eagles to an upset against the Washington State Cougars. He caught 12 passes for more than 200 yards and he even completed a pass that nearly resulted in a touchdown.
For most wide receivers you can a put a finger on what makes them special and what they are most comfortable doing. However, that is not exactly the case with Kupp as he is extremely versatile and can hurt opposing defenses from various spots and in numerous ways. The senior playmaker is just as capable of making something out of a screen pass as he is to catch a football in tight coverage on a vertical pass downfield. So what are the roles Kupp can play?
The slot weapon
If we were to determine a primary position for Kupp and try to put a label on what he is, it would probably be slot receiver. He lined up nearly 70 percent of the time in the slot in the three examined games. In addition, 32 of his 44 targets came when he ran a route from the slot and he gained 474 yards in three games on these plays alone.
Kupp is great at finding open holes in the defense, which is evident on broken plays when the quarterback needs to scramble outside of the pocket. However, this also gives him a great advantage when playing from the slot as he needs to find some free real estate in the middle of the field between defenders. In addition, his elusiveness is also very useful when he needs to operate in traffic as he can use his quickness to create separation and also to force defenders to miss.
The sideline threat
While Kupp is probably at his best inside, he has the size and speed to play outside as well. He is not particularly tall, but at 6-2 and 215 pounds he can go up and fight for the football in tight coverage against perimeter defenders. Eastern Washington’s No. 10 becomes a completely different player when lining up close to the sidelines, which is also a natural consequence of this role. While his average depth of target is 9.7 yards from the slot as he is working the underneath areas, the figure jumps to 16.2 yards when he is lined up wide. In addition, Kupp caught six of the eight passes going his way on go routes in these three games, including four touchdowns, which is an exceptionally high ratio. Quarterbacks had an (NFL) passer rating of 156.3 when targeting him on these plays, while the NCAA average is only 87.5 on go routes.
The gadget player
While he did line up at fullback once in the 2014 game against Washington, Kupp’s involvement in trick plays was something new this past Saturday. He was able to utilize his elusiveness on several designed runs as Eastern Washington called two jet sweep plays for him in the first two quarters and he converted both for first downs by breaking tackles and eluding defenders.
In addition, they followed up one of the jet sweeps with a wildcat play where Kupp lined up at quarterback. While most would have expected a run from this formation, he rolled out of the pocket and found fellow wide receiver Kendrick Bourne with a 22-yard pass at the one-yard line of Washington State. Based on what Kupp has done throughout his career, it will be no surprise if Eastern Washington will try to put the ball in his hands as often as possible.
Although Kupp has dominated FBS opposition over the past three years, it is still nearly impossible to determine whether he is the best wide receiver in college football because of the level of competition he faces week in, week out. However, he is probably the most complete one in the nation and might be the least predictable wide receiver on Saturdays. While his age may be a knock on him leading up to the draft next spring, he will certainly be one of the most exciting and intriguing prospects.