Should Ja’Marr Chase go ahead of Cooper Kupp on Underdog now?

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Justin Jefferson has now surpassed Cooper Kupp as the first wide receiver drafted on Underdog, but should we be taking his college teammate Ja’Marr Chase ahead of the Rams wide receiver as well?

The Case for Kupp:

Kupp is coming off an incredible 145 catch, 1,947 yards, and 16 TD season. He averaged 21.6 fantasy points in .5 PPR, which just edges out Davante Adam’s 21.5 in 2020 for the top fantasy season by a WR in the last 10 years. It was only the 3rd time a WR has averaged 20 or more fantasy points over the last decade. Kupp averaged nearly 3 points more per game than Deebo Samuel, and 6 points more than Chase.

In projecting Kupp for this season, it is unlikely that he can repeat that level of dominance. Even a modest reduction of 20% of his production still would have Kupp comfortably as WR 3 with over 17 points per game average. He is Matt Stafford‘s favorite target, and the Rams offense does an excellent job scheming him open. Despite teams knowing that Kupp was the focal point of the offense, they simply couldn’t stop him when it mattered most. This was evident both in the Divisional Round game versus the Buccaneers and in the 2nd half of the Super Bowl.

In both examples despite everyone knowing that the Rams were trying to get the ball to Kupp, the defense simply couldn’t take him away. Even when O’dell Beckham Jr. got injured in the Super Bowl, Kupp was unstoppable.

The Rams had 50 more passing attempts last season than the Bengals, which seems small at about 3 targets a game, but that does add up. Kupp also commanded nearly 32% of his team’s targets while Chase was just 23.7%. That is a pretty sizable gap and magnifies any difference between the two team’s total attempts. That type of alpha role is why it’s tough to predict that much of a drop-off in production for Kupp. It gives Kupp a really strong floor and should help keep him well inside the top 5 among WRs.

 

The Case for Chase:

Before looking at why Ja’Marr Chase should go higher, it is worth noting that there are some underlying concerns for Kupp. Last season the Rams lost RB Cam Akers before the regular season and dealt with some RB injuries to both Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel. Those various injuries led the Rams to be more passing-dependent last season, particularly in the Red Zone. With Akers healthy this season, it stands to reason that the Rams could see some of their passing TDs turn into rushing scores.

LA might not have much of a choice in being more reliant on the run this year if Matthew Stafford‘s elbow injury persists into the season. He was not able to throw for months and just resumed throwing in limited sessions. Perhaps the rest will be enough, but this potentially could force the Rams to limit Stafford’s passing. If that is the case Kupp’s numbers will fall, and likely by more than 20%. Stafford’s injury is a big part of the reason why Jefferson has already passed Kupp.

Chase on the other hand could see his offense expand their passing attack this season. Last year Joe Burrow was coming off a major knee injury, and you could see that the Bengals were trying to limit Burrow’s work early in the season and in various games. The concern to protect Burrow was increased given how poorly the offensive line played. As the season wore on and into the postseason, the Bengals let Burrow throw more and more. It was also clear that the Bengals’ offense was at its best when they used the passing game as a focal point.

Now with Burrow two years removed from his knee injury and the team making a major investment in the offensive line, this team could see their pass rate increase. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bengals throw the ball more than the Rams this year.

Chase quickly re-established his elite connection with Joe Burrow last season and dominated as soon as he took the field. Chase was arguably the best deep threat receiver in the league last season and showed himself to be an explosive weapon. Despite 64 fewer catches, Chase had only three fewer TDs than Kupp did last season. Chase finished 2nd (among WR with 100 or more targets) to Deebo Samuel in Yards per reception (18.0) and Yards after catch (8.0).

That’s what Chase was able to do as a rookie, he could very well improve his production this season. Not only that, but the gap between Kupp and Chase in target share could be much closer this season.

Verdict:

There’s probably not a “wrong” answer here between the two, but Chase is definitely deserving of consideration for being selected ahead of Cooper Kupp. In .5 PPR on Underdog, touchdowns are king and Chase could very well outscore Kupp this season if the target/catch gap shrinks between the two. This could also lead to Chase getting more yardage than Kupp as well. Kupp has the safer floor of the two, but when we are searching for upside Chase has the bigger play ability.

 

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