Cooper Kupp ran a 4.62 in the 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL combine. 
While below average for a wide receiver, the Los Angeles Rams still selected him in the third round of the draft. 
Other measurements of a player’s speed and explosiveness indicate that Kupp could likely run faster if given another opportunity, and this combined with his excellent route running and pass-catching ability have made him one of the best receivers in the league. 
- Cooper Kupp’s 40-yard dash time was below average for a wide receiver at 4.62
- While a receiver’s 40 time does matter, the correlation between straight-line speed and success at the NFL level has a loose correlation
- In-game measurements of Kupp’s speed seem to show that his 4.62 time is not a true indicator of his actual speed
A Deceptive 40-Time
Cooper Kupp played his college ball at Eastern Washington. Not exactly a football powerhouse, Kupp nevertheless had a fantastic career for the Eagles, catching 428 passes and 78 touchdowns. 
It was clear that he was an NFL-caliber player and was worth a draft pick. But the low level of competition made it difficult to project how he’d perform against the best players in the world. So when Kupp arrived at the NFL Combine and put together subpar numbers in the various drills, his draft stock dropped. 
Kupp was below average for a receiver in both the vertical jump and broad jump, indicating that he may lack the explosiveness to get open against professional cornerbacks. But it was his 40-yard dash time that made him tumble down draft boards, posting a disappointing 4.62. 
Unperturbed, Kupp crashed the Los Angeles Rams pre-draft press conference to ask how much stock the franchise placed in a player’s 40 times.
“Some players prove their 40-yard dash time wrong,” GM Les Sneed answered. 
Apparently, Kupp was one of those players for the Rams, and they scooped up the future superstar in the third round at pick number 69. 
Kupp wasted little time rewarding Sneed, grabbing 62 catches for over 800 yards in his rookie season. 
Combine Speed vs. On-Field Production
For as much stock as teams put into a player’s 40-yard dash time, it’s not always a good indicator of a player’s true in-game ability. A player could have simply run slow that day or had a poor start out of the blocks. Besides, how often does even a wide receiver get the chance to run unimpeded in a straight line that far?
Josh Hermsmeyer at FiveThirtyEight examined NFL receiver’s 40-yard dash time and compared it to their on-field production. And while there was some correlation between faster players and production, he also found several variables that could explain it, the biggest of which being that faster players tend to get drafted higher and are given more opportunity to fail than slower players drafted later. 
What we see is that there appears to be a minimum speed that a player has to run to be a successful wide receiver. Anything below 4.57 seems to give the player at least a chance, and while we do see a bias toward faster players, some of that can be attributed to younger, faster receivers getting more opportunities, even if their performance is below average.
Kupp’s 4.62 times would indicate that Les Sneed and the Rams made an error in selecting Kupp in the third round. But again, that’s assuming that we’re taking 4.62 as his true talent level. I’d argue that isn’t the case and the NFL’s Next Generation Stats (NGS) back that up.
I don’t think that means Kupp’s one of the fastest players in the league, but he can clearly get up to speed quickly. And when you combine average speed with the incredible route running and catching ability that we’re going to discuss below, you get something resembling another wide receiver that was also criticized for his lack of speed.
Elite Receivers Without Elite Speed
Few skills catch the eye of scouts and general managers more than a receiver with blazing speed. For decades, receivers have been chosen solely based on their straight-line speed and incredible 40-yard dash times at the combine. But, there’s more than one way to be a top-end receiver, and speed doesn’t necessarily equal a sterling career.
In fact, NFL draft history is littered with these talents. Take the Minnesota Vikings, who drafted burner Troy Williamson 7th overall in 2005 to replace the recently traded Randy Moss. 
Sure, Williamson could outrun just about anyone and ran a 4.32 at the 2005 combine. But when it came to NFL talent, Williamson’s skillset was anything but impressive. 
Now, this isn’t to say that speed doesn’t matter, and we’ve already established that Kupp’s 4.62 time is probably not a fair representation of his true talent level. Kupp will never be a Desean Jackson or Tyreek Hill that demands safety help over the top to prevent the big play. But what Kupp has in spades is a skill set that isn’t apparent from a casual glance at some combine numbers. It’s what makes talent evaluation so hard and so imperative.
Watching these three routes on a Sunday doesn’t “wow” you the way Tyreek Hill outrunning the entire defense does. It’s easy to shrug your shoulders and wonder how Kupp got so wide open. But all of these subtle movements, setting up defenders, keeping their hands off, and manipulating leverage has allowed Kupp to become one of the most potent weapons in the NFL without ever blowing past a Cover-Two safety.
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