NFL Countdown #20: Cooper Kupp and Tyler Lockett each saw a league-high 20
targets in different games last year. The results were ... well ... a little different.
The recent surge of the “passing boom” has given us a lot of fun games with high point totals, as well as a newfound importance of the slot receiver in these modern offenses. Back in the day, most offensive coordinators would obsess over establishing the run and look to throw deep on third downs. Recent trends in the NFL have shown us how much more an offense can accomplish when they look to pass on earlier downs, and take a shorter gain when the opportunity presents itself. Slot receivers and tight ends have really capitalized on these layup passes, generating a mismatch when linebackers have to drop back in coverage. Two of the best slot receivers in football, Cooper Kupp and Tyler Lockett, took full advantage of the spacing created over the middle of the field and were targeted a ridiculous 20 times in games during the 2020 season.
Wow. What a day for Cooper Kupp. Jared Goff's favorite slot receiver was running all over the field and was heavily involved in the Rams offense, but the production was nowhere near the opportunity he was given.
Don't get me wrong, I love Cooper Kupp as a player and I bet he's a fine young man off the field. I was playing around with data from the 2020 season and I was excited to see that I could write about Kupp's ridiculous 20 targets on Day 20. I slid on over to pro-football-reference.com and my jaw hit the floor upon seeing that he only put up 110 yards and zero touchdowns. The Rams fought hard against a stingy Dolphins defense, but only scored 17 points in a game where they nearly doubled their opponent's number of offensive plays. Kupp commanded a 33% target share while playing 58% of his snaps from the slot, and his longest reception of the day was just 22 yards.
Let's chalk this game up to an aberration, where Sean McVay just kept hitting the same button hoping it would eventually work. Kupp will be working out of the slot in 2021 with the Rams' new gunslinger Matthew Stafford, so I don't think we'll see Kupp doing his best Tony Snell impression again.
Now this is what I was expecting an elite receiver to do with 20 targets. Tyler Lockett went off with 200 yards and three touchdowns in the Seahawks Week 7 overtime loss to the Cardinals. Despite essentially falling down directly after catching the ball, Lockett averaged 13.3 yards per reception in Week 7 thanks to a healthy 11.7 yard average depth of target. Lining up in the slot for 49% of his snaps and catching passes from the red-hot Chef Russell Wilson, Lockett really capitalized on the giant opportunity he was given in this game. The 5'10" receiver was a surprisingly effective red zone threat in 2020, and caught two of his three TDs in this game from 3 yards out. As we saw with Russell Wilson's beautiful moon ball passes, Lockett can also take the top off the defense and showed off his speed with a 47-yard TD in a two-minute drill before the end of the first half. Lockett's 200 yards and 3 touchdowns were incredible, but it was his teammate DK Metcalf who stole the show in Week 7 by chasing down Budda Baker and spawning one of the great memes from the 2020 season.
Tyler Lockett has been one of the more boom-bust players in fantasy football, where frustrated managers are always complaining about finally deciding to bench him for a game where he scored a zillion fantasy points. In 2020, Lockett scored 8 of his 10 touchdowns in three games, and finished as the overall WR8 in PPR despite scoring in the top 24 just 38% of weeks.