NFL Media researcher Dante Koplowitz-Fleming identifies five of the biggest overreactions from the first half of the 2021 NFL season. The storylines below are bound to play out because, after all, numbers never lie. Right?
Cooper Kupp has become truly elite
The NFL has a new No. 1 wide receiver. Cooper Kupp, a third-round pick out of Eastern Washington in 2017, has ascended to elite status just nine games into 2021. The 28-year-old Ram has put up some ridiculous numbers -- he currently leads the NFL with 74 receptions, 1,019 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns. Kupp is on pace to become the fifth player in the Super Bowl era to lead the league in all three major receiving categories, joining Steve Smith (2005), Sterling Sharpe (1992), Jerry Rice (1990) and Lance Alworth (1966). For those counting at home, that's two Hall of Famers (Rice and Alworth), a should-be-Hall of Famer (Sharpe) and a player who is eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time this year (Smith).
And that's not where the similarities to Rice end. Only two players in the Super Bowl era have totaled 1,000-plus yards and 10-plus touchdowns receiving in their team's first nine games of the season: Kupp and Rice (1990). To further this almost sacrilegious comparison to the G.W.R.O.A.T., we'll point out Kupp won the Jerry Rice Award -- which recognizes the FCS national freshman of the year -- in 2013 while at Eastern Washington.
Mac Jones -- NOT Ja'Marr Chase -- will win Offensive Rookie of the Year
Hold on -- put down your pitchforks. Ja'Marr Chase has been sensational, there is no debating that. But recent history suggests the Bengals receiver is playing at the wrong position if he wants to waltz to this award.
Last year, Chase's former LSU teammate, Justin Jefferson, had a monster debut with the Vikings, totaling 1,400 receiving yards, which is a Super Bowl-era rookie record. So he was a lock to win OROY, right? Not so. The other Justin, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, picked up that honor while setting his own rookie record, with 31 passing touchdowns. Note also that in the previous 10 seasons, a quarterback has won Offensive Rookie of the Year five times (Cam Newton in 2011, Robert Griffin III in 2012, Dak Prescott in 2016, Kyler Murray in 2019 and Herbert), while only one wide receiver (Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014) won in that span. This award appears to be a quarterback's to lose -- and Mac Jones is setting himself up to claim it.
The 15th overall draft pick has led the Patriots to a winning record (5-4) and a place squarely in the playoff picture. Jones is just the third rookie since the 1970 merger to win at least five games and total 10-plus passing TDs and 2,000-plus passing yards in his first nine career games. The other two players to do so were the Cowboys' Prescott in 2016 and Andrew Luck with the Colts in 2012, both of whom went on to earn this individual honor and took their teams to the playoffs. With the Pats at 4-0 in away games, Jones is also just the third rookie to win his first four career road starts, joining Prescott (again) and Ben Roethlisberger (with the Steelers in 2004). Both of whom ... you guessed it, won OROY and made the playoffs.
The Chiefs (and their playoff hopes) are in major trouble
Few things are a lock in the NFL (outside of Tom Brady dominating the league for another decade), but the supremacy of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense seemed like a pretty safe bet heading into the 2021 season. Nine games in, though, we can say for certain ... that the Kansas City's offensive dominance is no longer a certainty.
The Chiefs have scored 20 or fewer points in each of their last three games (12.0 PPG in those contests) and have more turnovers (five) than touchdowns (three) in that span. The Chiefs had just two total regular-season games with 20 or fewer points scored from 2018 to 2020, by far the fewest in the NFL (Ravens and Saints were next, with seven such games).
The Week 9 win over Green Bay marked the Chiefs' first turnover-free effort since Week 1, so maybe this is the turning point in their season (though they still lead the NFL with 19 turnovers on the year). The only thing standing between the Chiefs and a playoff berth is their schedule.
The Chiefs have the toughest remaining strength of schedule in the NFL this season, and their remaining non-divisional games are against the Cowboys (Week 11), the Steelers (Week 16) and the Bengals (Week 17). They also have five divisional games remaining in what may be the toughest division in the NFL (all four AFC West teams have a winning record). And at 5-4, they'd be out of the playoff picture if the season ended today.
Mahomes has reached the AFC Championship Game in every season since he became a starter in 2018 -- but this year has been different from those seasons.
Lamar Jackson is having his best season -- and he should win another MVP
His play this year should put to bed any remaining notions that Jackson can be solved.
Jackson and the Ravens are 6-2 and are currently positioned as the No. 2 seed in the AFC despite trailing in the fourth quarter in five of their eight games played this year. Jackson and Baltimore are 4-1 when trailing in the fourth quarter this year, for a winning percentage of .800 -- if it holds, that would surpass Peyton Manning's 2009 record for best winning percentage when trailing in the fourth quarter in a single season since 2000, among those with a minimum of five QB starts (Manning was 7-2 when trailing in the fourth quarter in 2009 and won NFL MVP).
Jackson, who was 0-4 in his regular-season career prior to this season when trailing by double digits at any point in the second half, is now 3-1 in that scenario in 2021. No QB since at least 2000 has more than four wins in a full season in games they trailed by double digits in the second half.
To top it off, Jackson has averaged a career-high 276.1 passing yards per game this season (10th-most in the NFL) and 75.0 rushing yards (seventh-most among all players). Prior to 2021, the best rushing average by a player who also averaged 275-plus passing yards per game in a season was 30.3, set by Hall of Famer Steve Young in 1998. Jackson is on pace to more than double that average. He's also on pace for 1,275 rushing yards, which would break his own QB rushing record set in 2019 (1,206 in his MVP season).
Time to (try) to fit Myles Garrett for a gold jacket
Myles Garrett's torrid first half should have the folks in Canton working on some custom sleeves for the 6-foot-4, 274-pound pass rusher's gold jacket. He's amassed 12.0 sacks through nine games for the Browns this year, the most by any player in the NFL. He's on pace to tie Michael Strahan's single-season sack record of 22.5 set in 2001.
Garrett has averaged 0.91 sacks per game in his career, the most by any player since sacks were first officially recorded in 1982, among those with a minimum of 10 games played. His career total of 54.5 sacks in 60 games played puts him behind only Hall of Famers Reggie White and Derrick Thomas when it comes to the most sacks in a player's first 60 games.
At 25 years old, Garrett has already registered double-digit sacks in four straight seasons, joining the aforementioned Thomas and Colts legend Dwight Freeney as the only players to do so in four consecutive seasons before turning 26.
When your name routinely comes up in searches that return "Derrick Thomas" and "Reggie White," you're on the right path to a bronze bust.