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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Analysis: How the Seahawks missed on Eastern Washington product Cooper Kupp in 2017 draft

Cooper Kupp, fresh off his record-setting career at Eastern Washington, participates in the long jump at the 2017 NFL football scouting combine.  (Associated Press)
By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

SEATTLE – In just five NFL seasons, Yakima native Cooper Kupp already has the second-most catches (433) of any player from the state of Washington.

He trails only Eric Metcalf, who had 541 in a career that spanned from 1989 to 2002 and included 108 more games (179) than Kupp has (71). (While Eric Metcalf, the son of former NFL player and Franklin High alum Terry Metcalf, was born in Seattle, he graduated from high school in Virginia.)

And of the 326 Washington natives to play in the NFL, according to Pro Football Reference, Kupp already ranks 20th on PFR’s Weighted Career Approximate Value chart, a metric designed to measure a player’s overall value during the whole of their career.

Every player on the list ahead of him played at least 63 more games than Kupp has.

In other words, Kupp, who played at Yakima’s Davis High and later at Eastern Washington, is off to a really, really nice start in his career.

It’s a career that might someday have him regarded as being as good as just about any player in state history – though the gold standard may always be Port Angeles native John Elway, a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

As Seahawks fans frustratingly watch their NFC West division rival Rams in the Super Bowl Sunday – a game they might not be in if not for Kupp leading the NFL in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and receiving TDs (16) this season – they may inevitably ask how Seattle could let such a homegrown talent get away.

The draft, though, remains the ultimate inexact science, and how the NFL viewed Kupp in 2017 not only proves that adage anew, but also may be causing teams to rethink how they evaluate players.

Kupp, went 69th overall in 2017, with every team except New England passing on him at least once (and New Orleans making four picks before No. 69).

Seattle had two picks before Kupp went, famously trading down three times from 26 to 35 to acquire four later picks and then taking defensive tackle Malik McDowell, who never played a game for the Seahawks after suffering head injuries in an ATV accident. Seattle also had pick 55 that year and used it on offensive linemen Ethan Pocic, who has started 40 games in five seasons.

While they are easy to second-guess now, Seattle’s moves were generally given high marks at the time.

Gregg Rosenthal of called Seattle one of the winners of Day 2 of the draft, writing, “Malik McDowell has top-five talent, and Pete Carroll is just the coach to squeeze that talent out of him” with giving Seattle’s full class an A-minus.

Pro Football Focus, meanwhile, rated Pocic as the top center available in the draft, noting he hadn’t allowed a sack or even a QB hit in his last 16 games at LSU.

It’s worth remembering that restocking the lines on both sides was regarded as Seattle’s biggest need in 2017. Seattle also took four defensive backs (Shaquill Griffin, Tedric Thompson, Lano Hill and Mike Tyson) and running back Chris Carson in the seventh round.

Receiver wasn’t regarded as much of a need since Seattle had Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jermaine Kearse and Paul Richardson, who was coming off two good games in the playoffs, on its roster, as well as tight ends Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson. Russell Wilson threw for what remains a career-high 4,219 yards in 2016.

Still, the Seahawks took two receivers among their 11 picks – Amara Darboh of Michigan at 106 and David Moore in the seventh round.

Darboh went just about where everyone anticipated after having been perceived to raise his stock some with a 4.45-second 40-yard time at the combine.

So far, he has played just 16 NFL games, making just eight catches for 71 yards, all as a rookie in 2017, and was not on a roster during the 2021 season.

Kupp, of course, was gone by then, and going at 69 hardly makes him a draft afterthought.

But his selection by the Rams wasn’t greeted with rave reviews by everyone.

In their first draft under Sean McVay, the Rams used three of their first four picks on pass catchers – tight end Gerald Everett (44), Kupp, and receiver Josh Reynolds (119) – which was not considered the team’s primary need. In a consensus of nine draft grades compiled by FootballOutsiders, the Rams, who had no first-round pick, came in 31st of 32 teams.

Kupp was the seventh receiver taken in a strong receiver class. Three other WRs taken that year have also made the Pro Bowl – JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh, 62nd overall), Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay, 84) and Kenny Golladay (Detroit, 96).

Among those taken before Kupp was UW’s John Ross, who became one of the hot predraft stories after running a record time of 4.22 in the 40 at the combine. That time helped Ross get drafted ninth overall by the Bengals, and the third WR taken after Corey Davis (Tennessee, 5), and Mike Williams (Chargers, 7).

Therein may lie the real lesson behind the 2017 draft.

As the draft neared, some scouts still had questions about Kupp’s level of college competition, though he’d appeared to largely answer those by scoring 11 TDs in four games against Pac-12 foes during his time at EWU, including three against UW at Husky Stadium in 2014 (that Kupp had only two scholarship offers out of high school, and none from an FBS school, is, of course, its own story of a missed opportunity).

Maybe more of an immediate issue as the draft approached is that Kupp ran just a 4.62 40 at the combine, 40th of the 49 receivers in attendance. Kupp was far better in the three-cone and 20-yard shuttle drills, among the top eight receivers in each – drills each designed to measure quickness as opposed to straight-line speed. But the 40 time led to lots of predraft assessments that Kupp lacked “elite speed.”

Ross, who unquestionably had that speed, has struggled to translate it into consistent NFL production, with 62 catches for 957 yards and 11 TDs in five seasons, all fewer than Kupp had this year alone, and is already on his second NFL team, the Giants, after the Bengals declined to re-sign him when his rookie contract expired.

Rob Rang, an NFL draft analyst for, said he thinks Kupp’s success despite a pedestrian 40 time is compelling scouts to reconsider how they judge receiving prospects.

“I certainly believe that the success Cooper Kupp has enjoyed is forcing teams to rethink their allegiance to the 40-yard dash, as well as to the outdated philosophy that all of the best players come from the so-called Power Five schools – especially when players dominate in their opportunities against upper-echelon teams and/or all-star game formats, as Kupp did against numerous Pac-12 foes and the Senior Bowl,” Rang said.

“How scouts could not see that Kupp was a future NFL standout is, frankly, beyond me. The precision of his route-running, reliability of his hands, NFL bloodlines (his father Craig and grandfather Jake each played in the NFL), consistent production against any and all competition. It all screams of NFL teams outthinking themselves and drafting on the notion that he was ‘maxed out,’ and that better athletes in shorts would somehow overtake him once the pads and helmets returned on the football field.”

Watching Sunday’s Super Bowl will serve as all the proof anyone needs.