Why Justin Jefferson Will Not Play the ‘Cooper Kupp Role’
A lot has been talked about Justin Jefferson playing the same role as Kupp in the new Vikings offense. Cooper Kupp is an outstanding receiver. He won the triple crown (most receiving yards and touchdowns, and receptions in the league).
Not only that, but he also did it for the Rams. The Vikings’ head coach, Kevin O’Connell, was the offensive coordinator of the Rams. He designed the offensive gameplans and the plays. They had immense success with that formula, as the Rams even won the Super Bowl, including clutch plays from Kupp in a historic playoff run. The obvious way to go is to copy the offense. However, that is a bad idea.
What Is the Cooper Kupp Role?
The Cooper Kupp role is different than most fans realize. But first, who is Kupp? Kupp is faster than you think, bigger than you think, stronger than you think, and craftier than you think. He is the total package and can do everything. Some people believe that he only can play in the slot and only catches a ton of short passes. None of that is true.
Kupp can line up anywhere on the field, as a tight end, in the slot, and outside on both sides. He can catch short and deep passes and completely dominate opponents in the medium range. He can play against man and zone coverage, against a single defender, and when he’s double-teamed. He’s probably the most complete receiver in the NFL nowadays, and no defense against him worked.
Now, what is the Kupp role? It’s the role of a receiver who does everything. The most important part, the part that separates him from others, is the run blocking. The Rams ran by far the most plays in 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) in the league. The defense usually answers with a nickel defense (five defensive backs).
The Vikings, meanwhile, ran a lot of sets with two tight ends, and the opponent countered with a base defense, which means only four defensive backs and three linebackers. Obviously, the base defense is better against the run than the nickel defense, so the offense tries to get the defense to use nickel if they want to run.
A quick summary, the Rams play with three wideouts and the opponent with five defensive backs, which is worse against the run. The next step is that Kupp functions as a tight end. The Rams now can run to the weak side (the side with Kupp and not the side with the TE) and still be successful. They basically play with the speed of 11-personnel with the run blocking of a two-TE set.
Jefferson, on the other hand, was mainly lined up outside. At LSU, he played a comparable role to Kupp. However, his blocking is not on Kupp’s level. The Rams wideout is an absolute outlier. Using Jefferson as a blocker against edge rushers like Micah Parsons or Rashan Gary would feel like a wasted rep.
It would cost Jefferson a lot of energy to do that multiple times every game. Instead, he could line up outside and block a cornerback. He would also draw safety help in that scenario because defenses are scared of defending him one-on-one.
The Vikings will still use someone else than Jefferson in a Kupp-like role, but in my opinion, that should be K.J. Osborn. He’s thicker than Jefferson and could use his powerful body as a blocker. He also is a phenomenal slot receiver, as he had the best passer rating on targets of any slot receiver in 2021.
Osborn is having a strong training camp and might even challenge Thielen as the second wideout. Thielen is also a good blocker. The Vikings can be incredibly flexible because they have three good blockers, and all three can line up outside and inside.
One thing, however, will be similar between Kupp in 2021 and Jefferson in 2022. Both are the focal points of their offenses. Jefferson is a strong candidate to lead the league in receiving yards. His target share will be absurd, and since his efficiency has always been phenomenal, he’ll get a ton of yards.
Jefferson will handle Kupp’s usage rate in the Vikings’ passing game but most likely a different role in the running game. Other receivers of the Vikings are just better suited for that role, and the value of Jefferson lining up outside on running plays is drawing the safety help.
The emergence of Osborn allows the Vikings to play more 11-personnel. After just using it on 42% of the plays in 2021, the fourth fewest in the league, it will be a lot more of Jefferson, Thielen, and Osborn together on the field. The Rams had three wideouts in the field on almost 85% of the snaps, which was by far the most in 2021.
Jefferson is in line to have a big year for the Vikings. His goal is to establish himself as the best receiver in the NFL. As the focal point in Kevin O’Connell’s offense, his numbers could very well be through the roof.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt