Rookie Outlook: DeAndre Hopkins
By Jeff Brubach
The NFL career of standout Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson is now a decade old and has provided a bounty of fantasy football points along the way. Johnson has collected 56 touchdowns in 138 career games and racked up an amazing 11,254 receiving yards in his pro career, making him one of the NFL’s most prolific players. What Johnson has always lacked, however, is a partner in crime. The Houston front office has searched Gotham City high and low for a receiver to form a dynamic duo with their Caped Crusader and have come up with only seven middling years from Kevin Walter. After releasing Walter early in the 2013 offseason, the Texans appear to have finally landed their long desired compliment to Johnson in rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. With Hopkins now in the fold, fantasy football owners and Houston Texans fans alike can expect a solid season from the dynamic young wideout and a healthy upgrade in the Texans air attack.
When Houston elected to spend the 27th overall selection in the 2013 NFL Draft on a wide receiver, they landed a player fresh off an astonishing season. DeAndre Hopkins had shown great promise in his freshman and sophomore seasons at Clemson, but blew the doors off the hinges as a junior by piling up 82 catches for 1,405 yards and a whopping 18 touchdowns. Hopkins then called it a career at Clemson after three seasons and declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft, where he was clearly in the crosshairs of receiver-needy teams like the Texans, which snatched up the young receiver near the end of the first round. What the Texans acquired with the selection of Hopkins is a very talented and balanced receiver who has been lauded for his strength in the red zone, as well as his speed and precision while running routes. With the talent of Hopkins not in question, fantasy owners can then change focus to his role with Houston and the potential impact he will have on fantasy leagues in 2013.
The starting wide receiver position opposite Andre Johnson has been manned by Kevin Walter for the past seven seasons and has been generally yawn-inducing for the fantasy football community outside of a productive 2008 season. Walter was the quintessential fill-in player, as owners with injury issues or a glut of bye-week wide receivers would acquire his services and pray that he found the end zone. Walter averaged 47 catches for 583 yards and three touchdowns over his Texans career, so we can go ahead and set DeAndre Hopkins’ 2013 projection at 47/583/3 and wrap this baby up! Not so fast my fellow fantasy football fiends, as the differences between Walter and Hopkins are what will create a fantasy draft-worthy wide receiver. Let’s now take a look at some of Hopkins’ talents as well as his expected role in the 2013 Houston Texans offense and determine the fantasy viability of this youngster for the upcoming season.
As far as role is concerned, Hopkins’ spot in the Houston depth chart was primed with a neck pillow, blanket, and gin and tonic as soon as he was drafted. Quick, try to name another Texans wide receiver aside from Andre Johnson. Having trouble? Don’t worry, the leading pass catching wide receiver from 2012 not named Andre Johnson on the Houston roster is Keshawn Martin, and he hauled in a mere 10 passes last season. With Hopkins’ only wide receiver competition consisting of Martin (more of a slot type), DeVier Posey (torn Achilles) and Lestar Jean (six career catches), the rookie should step right into a productive role. This sentiment was made clear by Houston General Manager Rick Smith, via Nick Scurfield from HoustonTexans.com, as Smith said, “He is a guy who we thought could best come into this situation and help us the quickest, and not only quickly but this guy can evolve and develop into quite a player.” With a clear shot at a starting job, the only remaining question surrounding Hopkins’ 2013 fantasy outlook is his potential level of production.
While Kevin Walter was dependable as Houston’s second wide receiver, he clearly never had the ceiling that Hopkins currently possesses. The touchdown category is the first place that Hopkins will help fantasy owners, as he displayed a great nose for the end zone at Clemson while finishing with 27 scores in three seasons. With his strength in traffic, Hopkins could potentially rack up a respectable touchdown total in 2013, but will be capped in that department due to Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub’s good pal Owen Daniels, and the red zone prowess of Arian Foster. In terms of receptions and yardage, Walter was generally in the 50-catch/600-yard ballpark while starting opposite Andre Johnson, and Hopkins should be able to replicate the reception total quite easily as well as improve upon the yardage. While Hopkins won’t be labeled a burner anytime soon (his 4.57 40-yard dash was 29th among receivers at this year’s combine), he does have an ability to turn catches into big plays, as evident by his 17.1 yards per reception last year at Clemson. Hopkins will now face more stout and speedy defenders, but a number anywhere around 13-15 yards per catch will provide a significant upgrade over Walter, who only averaged higher than 12.6 YPC once in his tenure with Houston.
Overall, Andre Hopkins will provide a fine improvement over Kevin Walter opposite Texans stud Andre Johnson and should turn in a promising rookie season. Although Hopkins could reach the production levels of Justin Blackmon’s fine 2012 rookie season (64/865/5), I expect him to come in a bit shy and finish with around 60 receptions for 700 yards and four touchdowns. It may take Hopkins a few games to carve out a role in the Houston passing game, but I expect his production to increase as 2013 rolls along as the always steady, if unspectacular, Matt Schaub begins to trust the youngster. By the time the 2013 fantasy football season is in full swing, DeAndre Hopkins will be fully entrenched as not only Andre Johnson’s new partner in crime, but a fantasy wide receiver three/flex play.