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Ranking the NFL's best wide receiver seasons of past 40 years: Where Cooper Kupp's 2021 lands with Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Randy Moss

Cooper Kupp dominated this season as a wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams. He is only the fourth receiver in NFL history to capture the receiving triple crown, leading the NFL in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

We knew that the NFL's move to a 17-game season would lead to some records falling -- and for a while it looked like Kupp was going to break some of those records. He didn't end up breaking conventional records, but he did set records in advanced metrics by combining incredible efficiency with high volume.

Football Outsiders measures receiver value with DYAR, or Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement. This metric compares success on each of a receiver's targets with a baseline set at replacement level, defined as roughly the level of a typical fourth receiver on a team.

DYAR has a number of advantages over conventional stats. It's normalized for each year, recognizing that passing numbers have gone up over 40 years but yards per reception have generally gone down. It's adjusted for schedule. It incorporates the value of first downs, an oft-ignored but important stat for receivers, and it incorporates the big gains from drawing defensive pass interference (DPI) flags.

We've also added in value from rushing attempts, although nobody in our top 10 is quite Deebo Samuel.

After all those are factored in, we end up with a stat that balances efficiency with volume to find the most valuable receivers of each season and of the 38-year period for which we have play-by-play data.

Below, we'll take a look at the top 10 wide receiver seasons since 1983 using DYAR. First, let's take a look at two other seasons where someone won the receiver triple crown but was ranked far from the top 10.

213. Jerry Rice, 1990 San Francisco 49ers

Stats: 100 catches for 1,502 yards, 13 TDs and a 57% catch rate (326 DYAR); Triple crown

Rice is the greatest wide receiver of all-time and was the first player to win the receiving triple crown in the modern NFL. But this season ranks 213th among all wide receiver seasons since 1983 ranked by Football Outsiders DYAR. Partly because of his sub-60% catch rate, Rice has eight other seasons that we rate with more value than his 1990 campaign, including three more seasons that you'll find further down this list.

And yet, that doesn't mean that Rice's triple crown was somehow misleading. Rice still led the NFL in receiving DYAR. He put up over 200 yards more than any other receiver. He had 100 catches when only one other receiver had more than 80. He scored 13 touchdowns when only one other receiver had 10. It just wasn't a great season for great receiving seasons. That's how good Rice was: the best season out of any wide receiver in 1990 was just an average season for Rice.


112. Sterling Sharpe, 1992 Green Bay Packers

Stats: 108 catches for 1,461 yards, 13 TDs, 67% catch rate (390 DYAR); Triple crown