FFL: The Case For DeAndre Hopkins As WR1

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This is a tough one, it really is. DeAndre Hopkins is a game-breaking talent, but will he be able to take the next step and become the no. 1 scoring wide receiver in fantasy football?

 

DeAndre HOPkins

You don’t need me to sit here and tell you how good DeAndre Hopkins is. But I’m gonna tell you anyway.

DeAndre Hopkins is an absolute beast. Cool. Glad we got that straight.

Hopkins was drafted by the Houston Texans in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. The explosive wide receiver from Clemson was overshadowed while playing 2nd fiddle to star WR Sammy Watkins for his first two years. Hopkins also shared targets with the talented WR Martavis Bryant.

It was Hopkins’ 3rd year when Watkins and Bryant were drafted into the NFL, where he finally got his chance. And oh boy, did he take it. In his Junior year, Hopkins busted out for 82 receptions, 1405 yards, and a ridiculous 18 TDs as the new no. 1 WR for Clemson.

It was this insane season that vaulted Hopkins into the first round. The Texans happily swooped up Hopkins making him the 27th overall pick. Hopkins was drafted as the heir to the throne to one of the greatest receivers to ever play this game. You may have heard of him, his name is Andre Johnson.

At 6’1” 214 lbs, Hopkins had solid, but unspectacular size for the wide receiver position. His 4.41 40 time more than makes up for any size he may be lacking. Hopkins has large 10-inch hands and a fantastic 36 inch vertical to add to his profile.

More than the physical traits, just turn on the tape all you’ll see all you need to know about Hopkins. His explosiveness jumps out of the screen. His jumping ability, his strength, his route running, everything just kept fans mouthing the word “wow” every time this guy made a play.

So naturally, when the Texans drafted Hopkins in the first round, there were high expectations for the 20-year-old. Despite that, Hopkins didn’t have the elite rookie season many were hoping for, but he still had a very solid and promising season. Hopkins dropped 52 receptions, 802 yards, and 2 TDs while playing 2nd fiddle to future hall-of-famer Andre Johnson.

As wide receiver is one of the toughest positions for rookies to adjust to, it made sense that he would struggle. And playing as the no. 2 WR under Johnson, one of the best WRs in the league at the time, kept Hopkins from flourishing.

Still, Hopkins’ promising rookie year kept hopes high for the young man. In 2014, Hopkins’ sophomore year, the real breakout occurred. After a year under his belt, a motivated Hopkins had a stellar year dropping 76 receptions, 1210 yards, and 6 TDs as he started to slowly take the reins from an aging Andre Johnson.

That was enough for the Texans. In the 2015 offseason, the Texans cut Andre Johnson, who was debatably the greatest player to ever put on a Texans uniform. It was the end of an era in Houston, but it was also the start of a very good one.

Coming off his 1st 1000 yard season and now in full control as the alpha WR, the expectations were that he should go for another 1000 yard season. Well, he firmly blew those expectations out of the water. Hopkins set career highs across the board with 111 receptions, 1521 yards, and 11 TDs firmly establishing himself as one of the best WRs in the NFL.

What made this season even more impressive was that his “quarterbacks” consisted of T.J. Yates, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, and Brandon Weeden. No matter which incompetent was throwing the ball, Hopkins could not be stopped.

In 2016 expectations were at an all-time high. The Texans signed up-and-coming QB Brock Osweiler to a massive deal to be their franchise QB. The Texans also drafted speed demon Will Fuller in the 1st round to keep opponents from double-teaming Hopkins. The sky was the limit for Hopkins.

While the sky was the limit, Hopkins could barely make it off the floor. Brock Osweiler was so painfully horrible. He threw the ball so gingerly at times that Hopkins couldn’t even come close to catching it. While for most guys a 92-954-4 season is very good, for someone of Hopkins’ caliber, it was a bust.

Despite a down 2016 season, the Texans still awarded DeAndre Hopkins with a massive 5 year $81 million contract, making him the highest paid wide receiver in NFL history.

Hopkins most definitely delivered on that contract, showcasing why he deserved the money. The very next year (2017) Hopkins had a fabulous season of 96 receptions and 1378 yards, which included a career-high 13 TDs.

 

What Makes This Year Different?

So the question remains, why will Hopkins be the no. 1 scoring wide receiver? To really answer that, let’s dig deeper into DeAndre Hopkins’ 2017 season.

To be frank, Hopkins’ 2017 season wasn’t that great. Wait, what? Crazy, I know right. Hopkins was 6th in receptions, 4th in yards, led the league in touchdowns, and I don’t think it’s that good. Yeah, I hear what I am saying.

It’s more about what could have been with DeAndre Hopkins. And what could have been, was fueled by a guy named Deshaun Watson.

Deshaun Watson was a first-round pick for the Houston Texans in 2017. After years of terrible QB play, Texans fans were excited. The dual-threat star out of Clemson was set to be the starting QB for the Texans.

Not quite.

For whatever reason, Bill O’Brien thought it would be smart to start 21 Savage, I mean Tom Savage, against the Jaguars week 1. After taking 6 sacks in the first half, Savage was benched in favor of the unproven Deshaun Watson.

And that started one of the greatest 6-week stretches I have ever seen in my life. Deshaun Watson put up absolutely ridiculous numbers, but more importantly, DeAndre Hopkins did.

In 6 weeks with Watson as starting QB Hopkins put up 60 receptions, 551 yards, and 6 TDs. Spread that pace over 16 games and Hopkins was on pace for 160 receptions, 1469 yards, and 16 TDs.Genuinely eye-popping numbers. But in reality, Hopkins more than likely wasn’t going to touch that reception mark, but just think about what could have been.

That was a 6-week stretch highlighted by an insane 8-224-1 game in Seattle, one of the most daunting defenses to go up against. Life was good in Houston before a devastating ACL injury in practice derailed Watson for the 2017 season effectively crushed Texans’ fans hopes for the season.

Now we flash to 2018 where DeAndre Hopkins is somehow still only 26 and Deshaun Watson is on his way to a full recovery. While Watson is unlikely to continue to put up the video game numbers he did in 2017, he will have a chance to continue the stellar play he displayed his rookie year.

DeAndre Hopkins has firmly supplanted himself as the 2nd best wide receiver in the NFL and only seems to be getting better year after year. The sky is truly the limit with Watson, as Hopkins could realistically flirt with 20 TDs this year.

While Watson mostly took 2nd team reps last offseason with benchwarmer Tom Savage taking most of the 1st team reps, there was never a chance for Hopkins and Watson to develop serious chemistry. Think about that, and then look at the ridiculous numbers Hopkins has already put up with Watson. It’s a scary thought to think about what Hopkins will be able to do with a full offseason of work with Watson.

 

What Can’t Brown Do For You?

Fantasy football is a combination of opportunity, situation, and talent. While Hopkins can easily outscore Julio Jones, Odell Beckham, A.J. Green, he will have a much tougher time unseating the best wide receiver in the NFL.

That’s Antonio Brown, in case you haven’t figured that out yet. The best route runner in the NFL, Brown possesses elite hands, underrated speed, and serious explosiveness. He can break your ankles and get open or you can just throw it up to him and let him make a tough contested catch. He is legitimately the most uncoverable receiver in the NFL.

Teams have tried to stick one defensive back on Brown and he has burned them time and time again. But as I stated before, fantasy football is more than just talent. Brown is on a team that’s pass game revolves around him. This is a Steelers squad that understands Brown’s talent and manufacturers ways to get him the ball including screens, hitches, etc.

Since taking over as the no. 1 WR in 2013 Brown has been the model of consistency. He has boasted 5 straight seasons of 101+ receptions and 1284+ yards, while also averaging 10.4 TDs.

It’s a tough task to try and stop that guy, some would say impossible. So where do I come off saying Hopkins score more points than Brown? Bare with me a minute.

I would love to sit here and lie to you, telling you that Antonio Brown gets injured a lot but it simply isn’t true. From 2013-2016 AB did not miss a single regular season game due to injury. He missed one 2016 game due to a coaching decision by Mike Tomlin to rest his players for the playoffs.

In 2017 Brown suffered a partially torn calf in week 15 which knocked him out for the final 2 games of the regular season. Despite the injury, Brown still came back in the playoffs and dropped an insane 7-132-2 game on the Jaguars. All the more impressive considering Brown was still hurt and this was against the best secondary in the league.

So let’s look at the facts. Brown is now 30 and if you’re drafting Hopkins you’re hoping for a decline due to ages from Brown. Ben Roethlisberger is the real factor here. While nobody is too hot on drafting Big Ben, he holds the keys to AB’s success.

To be clear, AB will be elite with or without Big Ben, but with him, it takes Brown’s game to a whole ‘nother level. Since 2013, in 5 games without Big Ben, AB has put up 28 receptions, 341 yards, and 0 TDs. Take that pace over a whole season and you get 89 receptions, 1091 yards, and 0 TDs. So yeah, Brown struggles mightily without his favorite QB.

Check out post-2013 and you see the ridiculous output from Brown. The seasons Brown has put up are nothing to how he has produced with Roethlisberger. As I mentioned before, AB is going to put up elite numbers regardless of who throws him the ball, but the chemistry Brown and Roethlisberger have developed has led to uber consistent production from Brown.

It feels like Big Ben contemplates retirement every offseason. The QB has confirmed that he will play in 2018, but doubts on his health still arise. At 36 years old Big Ben’s body is sure to take a toll after 14 seasons under his belt.

A player who is reliant on his mobility and one who drags players along when he is scrambling, Roethlisberger is very prone to big hits. His age will not help him in that aspect.

Health aside, as Big Ben has gotten older, his production has slipped. His numbers have gone down, but more importantly, his real-life play has declined. Big Ben has lost a bit of accuracy and throwing power as the years have gone on.

While Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the NFL, his fantasy numbers have been heavily dictated by Big Ben’s health. The hope, if you’re drafting Hopkins, is Roethlisberger’s health and productivity decline will do enough to harm Brown’s numbers, which is something we have seen in flashes over the last few years.

 

Final Verdict

It’s a tough one, it really is.

The reality is, Hopkins’ production has been insane while playing with some of the worst QBs in the league. Aside from Watson, the best QB Hopkins has ever played with was Matt Schaub during Hopkins’ rookie year. Now that’s really saying something.

Somehow only 26 years old, Hopkins has still yet to enter his prime. It’s scary to think about how good Hopkins can be. The real factor will be Deshaun Watson. With a healthy Watson, Hopkins productivity will hit another echelon.

In this 2018 season, DeAndre Hopkins will look to enter a new level. While there’s no reason you should be drafting DeAndre Hopkins over Antonio Brown, don’t be surprised if Hopkins ends up at the top of the point totals at the end of the season. Ready or not, Hopkins is about to take the league by storm.

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