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Catching Calvin Johnson: Will Cooper Kupp break NFL receiving yards record in 2021?

Very few players in NFL history can match the peaks Calvin Johnson reached in his career.

Despite playing for an often bad Lions team, Johnson was consistently one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. In nine years, he had seven seasons with at least 1,000 receiving yards, three of which saw him reach more than 1,400. Four times, he had at least 12 receiving touchdowns. All but his final seasons in the league saw him average 14-plus yards per catch, and that last year, he averaged 13.8. 

That’s all before you remember that Johnson holds the NFL record for receiving yards in a season, set at 1,964 back in 2012.

His then-quarterback, Matthew Stafford, is now trying to help another receiver hit that mark. Cooper Kupp has been the league’s best in 2021, already having reached 1,489 yards through the air this season. With still five games left, thanks to the 17th game added to the schedule, Kupp has a chance to reach the record set by Megatron. 

Can he do it? Sporting News breaks down his chances.

MORE: Will T.J. Watt or Myles Garrett break NFL sack record?

Can Cooper Kupp catch Calvin Johnson?

Jerry Rice’s record of 1,848 receiving yards set in 1995 had stood for a long time until Johnson shattered it in 2012. Now, Stafford will hope to help another teammate, this one with the Rams, break the single-season mark.

This year, Kupp is the only receiver with 100 receptions (113 after Week 14) and he leads the league with 1,489 receiving yards and 12 receiving touchdowns. He has averaged 114.5 yards per game. Kupp has been graded by PFF as having a 90.9 receving grade, the fifth-highest in the league. He and Tyler Lockett are also tied for the best receiving pass routes grade on passes 20-plus yards downfield at 99.9, and his grade of 78 for HandsDrop is tied with Stefon Diggs for the best in the league, according to PFF.

At nearly 500 yards behind Johnson, Kupp is going to have to have some dynamic games down the stretch. Here’s a look at who he’s playing.

Week Team Rec Yards to WR PFF Coverage
15 Seahawks 1,859 (13th) 45.3 (28th)
16 Vikings 2,279 (30th) 65.9 (18th)
17 Ravens 2,079 (26th) 54.5 (23rd)
18 49ers 1,896 (17th) 72.3 (11th)

That’s not too shabby. The biggest test (the Cardinals, who held Kupp to just 64 yards on five receptions their first meeting) has been cleared after Kupp dropped a season-high 13 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown on “Monday Night Football.” Last time he faced the Seahawks, he caught seven passes for 92 yards, and when he played the 49ers, he had 122 yards on 11 catches.

Kupp has been a consistent receiver this season, with his game against Arizona marking the only time he was held to fewer than 90 receiving yards. He has six times had more than 120 receiving yards in a game, and twice had more than 150. In order to set the record, he would have to average 118.75 yards per game. That is slightly above his season average, but with games against porous pass defenses like Seattle, Minnesota and Baltimore, he has some potential for big games.

Johnson experienced a similar flow to his record-breaking 2012 season, starting off relatively slow before picking it up near the end. He had three 100-plus-yard games in his first seven games of the season and averaged only 91.1 yards per game. In the last nine games of the season, however, he averaged 147.3 yards per game, posting two games with more than 200 receiving yards, another with more than 170 and only one game below 118 receiving yards. He averaged 14.3 targets and nine receptions per game. Had he maintained that pace over a 16-game season, he would have racked up 2,357 receiving yards.

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