How Rams Cooper Kupp developed into elite NFL slot receiver

Eric D. Williams

The training for Cooper Kupp started early at Davis High School in Yakima, Wash., and continued during his time at Eastern Washington University.

At both stops, Kupp meticulously studied tape on the best receivers in the NFL, learning the subtle ways on how they created separation and adding it to his tool box.

The constant work and tinkering of his game helped Kupp set Football Championship Subdivision records for receiving yards and receptions while at Eastern Washington.

And that same relentless effort spurred a breakout season last year for Kupp, with him leading the Los Angeles Rams in receiving yards (1,161), receptions (94) and touchdowns (10).

For his effort, Kupp was voted by his peers to the NFL Network’s top 100 players at No. 89.

While Kupp can get open aligned anywhere on the field, he’s developed into one of the best slot receivers in the game. At 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, Kupp possesses great quickness to get in and out of breaks, but also the strength to win closely contested catches and wiggle to make defenders miss after the catch.

Kupp led the NFL in receiving yards from the slot position in 2019 with 783, while finishing second in targets (93) and receptions (62) from inside. According to Next Gen Stats, Kupp also led the league with 26 receptions from the slot on third down.

Kupp said he developed his knack for getting open in the slot by watching two masters at the spot, Larry Fitzgerald and Wes Welker.

“He plays inside and outside, but Larry Fitz is someone that I thought plays the position very well,” Kupp said. “They have two very different body types. Two guys that played the game very differently and I think that’s the beautiful thing about football -- and really the slot position and receiver position -- generally it’s an art form.

“Wes Welker’s going to get open on a stick route a different way than Larry Fitz is. Neither one’s wrong. So, being able to grab things from those guys and understanding leverage, I think, is a big deal.”

Kupp went on to point out the subtle differences in the two talented receivers’ games -- how Fitzgerald initiates contact and plays through it -- while Welker tries to avoid it.

“The more you allow yourself to use all these different tools -- where if you do have someone that wants to be a little more grabby, wants to be able to body you a little bit more, being able to be like Fitz, be able to play it with your length, but use your body to be able to create separation,” Kupp said. “Versus someone like Wes -- he didn’t want to be touched really. He was able to use his quickness. He would be able to swipe people by. If you’re able to do a little bit of both and really keep that tool belt well stocked, I think that’s kind of something as slot receiver, I never want to be pigeonholed into just being able to do one thing.”

Kupp, 27, showed his grit and determination in 2019, working his way back from a torn ACL in his left knee that cut short his 2018 season. Entering the final year of his rookie contract that will pay him a little over $2 million in total compensation for the 2020 season, Kupp said he wants to stay with the Rams long-term.

“We haven’t had any conversations so far,” Cooper said. “I’m obviously, incredibly grateful to be here and to be able to play for a great organization. I love it here. I don’t want to go anywhere.

“But in terms of all the contract stuff, I’m really letting all that stuff be handled by my agent and staying out of it. I’m just really excited to be back playing football. Above everything else going in the world right now, just being able to come in here and be with the guys, work together with these guys towards something great -- that’s really what I’m excited about.”