Fantasy football: Will Cooper Kupp repeat as top WR in fantasy?

Cooper Kupp is coming off a historic campaign, having set single-season records with his 439.5 PPR and 294.5 non-PPR fantasy points in 2021. He scored 20-plus PPR fantasy points on a record-setting 14 occasions and reached the 30-point plateau a record-tying six times. Kupp also had a massive impact on the Los Angeles Rams' Super Bowl championship run, totaling 45 catches on 64 targets for 625 yards and seven touchdowns in four playoff games.

Taking all of that into account, it comes as no surprise that Kupp is almost universally regarded as fantasy football's No. 1 wide receiver entering 2022. As nothing has dramatically changed with his circumstances, it's a valuation that makes sense.

Now, allow me to upend your first-round planning: I see both a very realistic possibility that Kupp will not only fail to finish 2022 as fantasy's WR1, but that he also should not be the first wide receiver selected.

Fantasy football's big three wide receivers

Entering 2022, there's a clear top tier at the wide receiver position: Kupp, Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase. Kupp's accomplishments listed above easily earn him a place in this group, while Jefferson and Chase both finished ranked No. 4 (330.4) and No. 5 (304.6) in WR PPR fantasy points last season, are 23 and 22 years old, respectively, and are the No. 1 targets in pass-friendly offenses.

However, Jefferson stands out as the one who could unseat Kupp in 2022. He scored more points through his first 33 NFL games than any wide receiver outside of Odell Beckham Jr. and Randy Moss since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Jefferson also nearly topped the position in PPR fantasy points during the second half of last season. Here's a comparison of how Kupp and Jefferson performed in fantasy in Weeks 10-18:

Kupp: 8 G, 204.1 FPTS (1st), 89 targets, 31.7% target share
Jefferson: 9 G, 197.7 FPTS (2nd), 99 targets, 34.4% target share

That is the kind of usage that can fuel a 400-point, 17-game fantasy campaign, and Jefferson brings traits that give him one of the highest statistical ceilings of any wide receiver. He paced all NFL players with 2,082 air yards and was second in the league with 16 end zone targets, things that underscore his role as both a big-play receiver and his ability to pace the position in touchdowns.

Chase, meanwhile, is coming off a season in which he totaled the second-most PPR fantasy points by any rookie wide receiver (304.6). His 17.9 points per game was the sixth most among of any receiver in history who played at least 10 games. He flashed remarkable chemistry with quarterback Joe Burrow and broke out late in the year with a 55.6-PPR-point masterpiece in Week 17 and 25 catches on 35 targets for 368 yards in four playoff games.

Similarly to Jefferson, Chase brings big-play ability to the table; his 9.0 yards after the catch per target rate during the season's second half was the third best among qualified wide receivers. His 13 end zone targets for the season were also tied for fifth at the position. While it might be a stretch to expect Chase to leap to the top of the wide receiver leaderboard, Jefferson's substantial jump in his sophomore season last year shows that it can be done.

Kupp's prospects of a repeat

One of the strongest arguments against Kupp repeating as fantasy's WR1 is his injury history. He was limited to only eight games in 2018 because of a torn left ACL that prematurely ended his year, and in 2020 he missed one regular-season game while on the COVID-19 list and another during the playoffs because of a knee issue. In total, Kupp missed 14 of 70 games combined between the regular season and postseason in his first four years in the NFL.

A 29-year-old with more mileage on him, Kupp stands a slightly greater chance at more missed time than either Jefferson or Chase, who both have yet to miss an NFL game.

Simple regression to the mean, too, might work against Kupp. Last season, he became only the 18th wide receiver since the merger to average at least 22.5 PPR fantasy points per game while playing in at least 10 games in the given year. Of the previous 17 players, 10 saw their point totals decline by at least 80 the following season, and only Jerry Rice (1994-95), Terrell Owens (2000-01), Odell Beckham Jr. (2014-15), Antonio Brown (2014-16) and Davante Adams (2020-21) managed a 300-point campaign in their follow-up seasons -- note that only Adams had a 17-game season.

Those names give hope that Kupp could reach the 300-point plateau again in 2022, but is 400 a realistic possibility? The group saw its per-game average decline by 5.0 PPR fantasy points per game in the follow-up year, a rate that, if Kupp matches, would place his final 2022 total at 353.3. As is, we've projected him for a position-best 310.8 points, meaning we expect a good deal of regression as is.

As far as the talent surrounding him, the Rams added Allen Robinson II to a solid group of receivers that already included Van Jefferson and tight end Tyler Higbee. Robinson might've disappointed in 2021, but he has three seasons of 150-plus targets and 250-plus PPR fantasy points (2015, 2019 and 2020), and gives QB Matthew Stafford another experienced wideout. Should Robinson rebound significantly, Kupp might lose a chunk of his league-leading 192 targets, which were 22 more than anyone else in the league had.

The upshot is that none of the big three wide receivers should be regarded as the wrong pick, even as a first-rounder. The catch is that I see all three as equally valid, high-floor selections who have the best odds of any wide receiver at pacing the position in fantasy points.

I do rank Kupp as my No. 1 wide receiver entering 2022, as the majority of people do. Coming off a historic season, with one of the most pass-friendly offenses in the league, the odds support his candidacy best. But if I see Kupp go the pick before me in the first round -- and am not excited by any of the running backs on the board -- I wouldn't be afraid in the slightest to go for Jefferson or Chase.

After all, I have these receivers ranked fifth, sixth and eighth overall, and part of me is awfully tempted to pick Jefferson first from this group because of his upside.