A year after ACL surgery, Rams' Cooper Kupp among NFL's top receivers

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif -- It was a game of hot potato, Los Angeles Rams style.

During the second quarter of the team's Week 8 win in London, quarterback Jared Goff took the snap, then handed off to Cooper Kupp, who handed off to Robert Woods as they crossed paths from opposite directions.

Woods flipped the ball back to Goff, who launched a pass deep down the sideline to Kupp.

Kupp watched as Cincinnati Bengals cornerback B.W. Webb fell, leaving him open to run up the sideline. Kupp then broke a tackle at the goal line to finish the 65-yard touchdown.

Was that double-reverse flea-flicker fun to watch?

"Damn right!" Rams coach Sean McVay exclaimed.

Then again, that's been the case for most plays involving Kupp this season.

In a receivers group that includes Woods and Brandin Cooks, Kupp leads the team with 58 receptions for 792 yards. He also has caught five touchdowns.

As the 5-3 Rams prepare to open the second half of their season Sunday against the 4-4 Pittsburgh Steelers (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox), Kupp is well on his way to his first 1,000 receiving-yard season.

"He's played a such a high level," McVay said. "He's really been so consistent since the first day he got with us."

The Rams selected Kupp in the third round of the 2017 draft from Eastern Washington, where he set a slew of Football Championship Subdivision records, including receiving yards (6,464), catches (428) and touchdowns (73).

A slow 40-yard dash (4.62 seconds) at the NFL combine contributed to his slide in the draft, which undoubtedly has become the Rams' gain. Kupp is in the third year of his rookie deal, which is scheduled to pay him $3.8 million over four seasons.

Kupp appeared promising as a rookie, despite a few miscues, catching 62 passes for 869 yards and five touchdowns. Last season, he was on pace to reach 1,000 receiving yards before suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 10.

Now, nearly a year removed from reconstructive knee surgery, Goff's trusted slot receiver claims he's faster than ever and he's emerged not only as a top pass-catcher in L.A., but across the NFL.

Kupp's 792 receiving yards ranks third behind New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas, the NFL's highest-paid receiver, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans.

More than half of Kupp's receiving yards, 408 exactly, have been earned after the catch, which ranks first among receivers and second among all players, behind Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler.

A prime example of Kupp's YAC ability came in a Week 2 victory over the Saints. Kupp caught a mid-range pass from Goff, then dodged and broke at least five tackles. With the help of teammates blocking down field, Kupp turned the play into a 66-yard gain before he was brought down a yard short of the goal line.

"He looked awesome and it was incredible," McVay said at the time. "He sure looks good, doesn't he?"

Kupp's 149 receiving yards after first contact also ranks first in the league.

"You can just see the ability to create after the catch, making plays, being able to create separation," McVay said.

After four consecutive games with at least 100 receiving yards, Kupp was quiet in a Week 6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers and a Week 7 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Then, at Wembley Stadium in London, he broke out a signature performance against the Bengals.

He caught seven passes for a career-high 220 receiving yards in the 24-10 victory.

"Something like that only comes about when you've got 11 guys on offense executing and doing what they're supposed to do," Kupp said about his performance. "You've got to have guys around you that also are pulling coverage to get into their spots and distributing the field the right way."

Former Rams receiver Flipper Anderson set the all-time record in 1989 for receiving yards in a single game at 336.

Goff was unsure what the single-game record was, but set his sights on a lofty benchmark as Kupp went off. "When he got 220, we were like, 'All right, we need to go for 300 right now," Goff said. "But it was good. I thought Cooper played well."

In the first half alone, Kupp surpassed his previous career high of 162 yards as he caught five passes, all for more than 20 yards, for a total of 165 yards.

As for the double-reverse flea-flicker that went for the 65-yard score, that was a play Kupp said they have been working on "for a while."

"Sean couldn't have called it fast enough," Goff said. "We got the opportunity, and we got the right look for it.

"Cooper made a good play."

With eight games remaining, and with the Rams in the hunt for a wild-card playoff spot, Kupp is on track to make many more.