Written By Edward Sutelan
Cooper Kupp has always been an underdog.
He had no stars coming out of high school, per 247Sports Composite Rankings, and he didn't even receive an offer to play for Eastern Washington until three weeks following the end of his senior year in high school. Kupp proceeded to set FCS records in receptions (428), receiving yards (6,464) and receiving touchdowns (73).
On Sunday, the 2017 third-round pick is on the verge of setting another record, this one in the NFL. Kupp has tallied 1,829 receiving yards in 2021, far and away leading the NFL. And when he takes the field for the final time in the 2021 regular season, he'll have a chance to break the single-season receiving yards record set back in 2012 by Calvin Johnson.
NFL single-season receiving yards record
"Megatron" had one of the best careers 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 recorded 1,964 receiving yards, breaking Jerry Rice's 1995 record of 1,848 yards. Johnson had gotten off to a seemingly normal start during the year, catching 41 passes for 638 yards in the first seven games of the season. However, over the final nine games of the campaign, 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 raced to see who would lead the league in receiving yards. Jones finished the season at 1,871 and Brown was second at 1,834. Entering the final week of the 2021 season, those two marks rank second and fourth for receiving yards in a single-season.
Kupp has now entered the conversation. He has the fifth-most single-season receiving yards and figures to pass both Jones and Brown, at least, on Sunday to move into second. The question will be whether he can pass 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 more than 300, and his 138 receptions are the most by more than 20. The next closest player in receiving yards is the Vikings' Justin Jefferson, who has just 1,509, while the Packers' Davante Adams is second in receptions at 117.
Can Kupp catch Johnson's record? Here's how he's accumulated those yards this season.
Kupp has not had the type of explosive single-game performances that Johnson had during his 2012 campaign. Johnson twice had games with more than 200 receiving yards and had two more with at least 160. Kupp has only once this season reached 160 yards (163 in Week 2).
But just like how Johnson finished the season strong, so too has Kupp. Over his past seven games, Kupp has caught 64 passes for 810 yards, averaging 115.7 yards per game. During that stretch, four games have seen him record at least 120 receiving yards.
The first game in that stretch came against the 49ers, where he caught 11 passes for 122 yards. Should he repeat that performance, he would come up just shy in the chase for the receiving yards record, but he would tie Michael Thomas' 2019 single-season receptions record at 149.
Kupp needs 136 yards to break Johnson's receiving yards record. He had exactly 136 against the Seahawks in Week 15 and twice during the season has had at least that many.
The only other single-season record chase that is currently ongoing is that of Steelers' linebacker T.J. Watt going after Michael Strahan's single-season sacks record. Watt missed two games, and thus will finish the season at 15.
Therefore, Kupp will be one of the first players put to the test of history with the record should he surpass Johnson. In 16 games, Kupp is still 135 yards back of Johnson. But Kupp will have the added benefit of a 17-game season, whereas Johnson played in 16 games in 2012.
Even Kupp has acknowledged that breaking the record would come under unique circumstances.
"What the guys did that set those records – Mike Thomas, Randy Moss for the touchdowns, what Calvin Johnson did with yards – what those guys did in 16 games, it wouldn't seem right for those to be broken in 17 games," Kupp said, according to the Rams. "It wouldn't hold the same weight to me as it does for guys that have done that in a 16-game season. The accomplishments those guys had, the seasons those guys put together, those are incredible accomplishments, so you kind of have to separate the two. We're in a new age of football here where we're playing 17 games a year. A lot of the stuff that happened before that, I think those records hold a different weight, being that 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, however, it would be Matthew Stafford. The current Rams' quarterback was under center throwing to Johnson throughout the record-setting season, and now has a chance to help another receiver set the mark.