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Player Spotlight: DeAndre Hopkins

A detailed look at DeAndre Hopkins' fantasy prospects for 2015

After quietly finishing his sophomore campaign as the cumulative WR14, can DeAndre Hopkins continue his ascension to the top tier of fantasy wide receivers in year three?

If you’re nodding your head yes, it’s because Hopkins’ career trajectory, skill-set, and projected target volume suggest he can easily break through with Top-10 WR numbers in 2015, perhaps even Top-5.

If you’re shaking your head no, it’s because the Texans’ pair of heinous QBs - Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett - are about as trustworthy as Mexican tap water.

Both schools of thought absolutely have merit. Hopkins has first round NFL Draft pedigree, two impressive pro seasons under his belt, and he’ll see all the targets he can handle with Andre Johnson now an Indianapolis Colt. Yet sadly, he’ll also be saddled with Hoyer and/or Mallett, neither of whom completed over 55.5% of their passes last season.

Can the intersection of talent and opportunity trump one of the shakiest QB situations in the league? It’s a question that begs more questions.

How good is DeAndre Hopkins?

If we’re judging Hopkins based on his body of work through two NFL seasons, the only correct answer is ‘historically good’. You’ll find his name on the short list of players in NFL history to amass over 2,000 receiving yards in their first two seasons, before turning 23 years old:

The other three players listed have combined for 13 Top-5 WR seasons, and have finished as fantasy football’s best WR on six separate occasions. Like Fitzgerald and Gordon before him, Hopkins has succeeded despite being burdened with shaky quarterbacks to begin his career.

Last season saw Hopkins finish inside the Top-10 among qualifying receivers in just about every efficiency metric you can name - yards per target (9.53), yards per reception (15.9), yards per route run (2.27), drop rate (3.8%), and catch rate on targets of 20+ yards (44.4%). He accounted for over 35% of Houston’s receiving yardage - the best market share in the NFL - which is particularly impressive when you consider he wasn’t the most heavily targeted WR on his team.

That distinction belonged to Andre Johnson, who racked up 146 targets. With Johnson gone, and the new additions to the Texans' receiving corps - Cecil Shorts and rookie Jaelen Strong - unlikely to absorb all of his targets, Hopkins figures to receive more than the 120 looks he saw last season (perhaps substantially more).

Just for kicks, if Hopkins were to maintain his 2014 efficiency while inheriting Johnson’s target volume, he’d end the year with a 92-1391-7 line. The resulting 181 fantasy points would have been good for 10th best at WR last season, just ahead of T.Y. Hilton.

While those projections aren’t unreasonable, the situation is obviously more nuanced. Johnson was terrible last season. His 6.41 yards per target was third lowest among receivers who were targeted at least 100 times. Still, when opposing defenses game planned for the Texans, they almost always sent their top CB Johnson’s way. Hopkins will have to prove capable of beating more skilled corners, as well as defensive schemes specifically focused on containing him.

The other factor which may lower Hopkins’ fantasy ceiling is touchdown potential. Five of his eight career TDs have come from 29 yards out or more. While it’s great Hopkins can make splash plays that result in receiving lines like the nuclear 9-238-2 he dropped on the Titans last year, he’ll be difficult to rely on from week to week unless he improves in the red zone.

Hopkins has converted only three of his 24 career red zone targets into TDs. His 12.5% red zone TD conversion rate is fourth worst among WRs who have seen at least 20 red zone targets over the last two seasons. The poor production is compounded by Houston’s red zone tendencies. Last year, 61% of the Texans’ red zone TDs came via the pass, and only 53% went to WRs. Both rates were eighth lowest in the NFL.

Some of Hopkins’ red zone failures can be chalked up to playing with QBs like Matt Schaub, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Savage, and Mallett, but it’s not a situation that figures to improve, even if Hoyer becomes Houston’s starter. Last year, Hoyer converted 19% of his red zone passes into TDs, the sixth worst mark among QBs with at least 25 attempts.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that Hopkins role in the red zone should expand without Johnson around to hog targets. Johnson accounted for 33% of the Texans’ red zone targets over the last two seasons, while Hopkins received 18%. It’s fair to assume an increase in volume will result in an additional TD or two, especially since Hopkins was a scoring machine in college. In his final year at Clemson, he scored in every game but one and averaged a ludicrous 1.44 TDs per game.

Is there any Hope for Houston at Quarterback?

The Texans’ quarterback situation is as appealing as gas station sushi, but it’s no reason to abandon hope of statistical progress for Hopkins in 2015.

At this point, we know the veteran Hoyer will open the season as the Texans' quarterback. Hoyer looked like the worst starting QB in the NFL at times last season, but there are at least a few indicators his presence behind center for the Texans wouldn’t completely railroad Hopkins’ chances for a top tier fantasy season.

The percentage of Hoyer’s passing yards that came before the catch was a solid 59% last season (fifth best in the league). His accuracy on passes 20 or more yards downfield ranked seventh among qualifying QBs, and his 7.59 YPA was Top-8. Despite a lack of exceptional arm strength, these numbers suggest Hoyer can get the ball to his receivers down field. It’s a trait that should mesh well with Hopkins, who was targeted 13.4 yards down field on average last season (per Pro Football Focus).

It may be a small sample, but Hoyer played a role in Josh Gordon’s WR1 finish in 2013. In the two full games Hoyer started for the Browns that year, Gordon averaged seven catches, 108 yards, and caught one TD. Hoyer locked in on Gordon, targeting him on 30.4% of his pass attempts - a market share more than capable of supporting a superstar wide receiver. Given the question marks the Texans employ at WR behind Hopkins, it’s easy to imagine Hoyer giving him the Gordon treatment.

We also can’t rule out Hoyer playing marginally better than he did last season. He’s in a familiar scheme under Houston Head Coach Bill O’Brien, who was either QB coach, or offensive coordinator in each of Hoyer’s three years in New England. The Texans offensive line ranked as a better unit than Cleveland’s in both pass blocking and run blocking according to Football Outsiders. They're going to run the football often, even without Arian Foster, which should help set up the pass. And Hoyer came into the 2014 season less than 11 months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL. A healthy offseason should help his chances.

All of this is not to say Brian Hoyer’s presence in Houston is a good thing for DeAndre Hopkins. It’s not...at all. But Hoyer is a more reliable option than Mallett, and at least there are reasons to believe he won’t mess things up any worse than Houston’s sub-par QBs did last year, when Hopkins still managed 1,210 yards and 6 TDs.

Final Thoughts

DeAndre Hopkins is one of the most talented wide receivers in the league, and he’ll enter 2015 in position to be one of the most heavily targeted.

Andre Johnson’s 146 targets were the fifth most in the league last season. In Bill O’Brien’s three other seasons as a QB coach or offensive coordinator, his most heavily targeted WR has seen 162, 123, and 173 targets, which would indicate the volume Johnson saw last year was not an anomaly, and doesn’t represent a ceiling.

Besides Johnson, no wide receiver who saw at least 146 targets last year finished the season with less than 98 catches, 1,519 yards, or six TDs. Hopkins’ upside is that immense. If he maintains his efficiency as his opportunities increase, he can challenge for the league lead in receptions and receiving yards. And if he sees a modest, volume induced bump in his TD production?

We could be looking at fantasy football’s top wide receiver.

Can you say the same for Emmanuel Sanders, or Mike Evans? How about T.Y. Hilton, or Alshon Jeffery? All four of those players are currently being drafted ahead of Hopkins according to our ADP data.

The Texans’ sketchy QB situation means drafting Hopkins carries some risk, but he has the role, size, hands, and big play ability to be a fantasy WR1 (perhaps even the WR1). He's a bargain at his current ADP, towards the end of the third round in 12 team leagues.

Positives

  • Hopkins’ career trajectory after two pro seasons points toward greatness

  • He was one of the most efficient receivers in the NFL last season, despite mediocre (or worse) QB play

  • With Andre Johnson out of town, Hopkins projects as a target monster

  • He can do stuff like this

Negatives

  • Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett are not good quarterbacks

  • Hopkins will be the focus of top cover corners and defensive coordinators for the first time in his career

  • His TD upside could be capped by poor red zone production

2015 Projections

 

REC

YD

TD

Alexander

94

1359

8

Dodds

81

1264

7

Wood

86

1250

8

Tremblay

88

1380

6

Other Viewpoints

The Fake Football’s Jeff Brubach is also enamored with Hopkins’ potential:

“Hopkins is a crazy value and will provide WR1 numbers for teams that start RB/RB in rounds one and two”.

Numberfire’s Jason Schandl thinks Hopkins is ready to join the WR elite.

“Hopkins has already made huge strides as a pro. His quarterback situation isn't ideal, but it's not much worse than anything he's had to deal with in the past. Because his continued progress towards his peak as a player is accompanied by becoming the focal point, and because he is easily the most talented receiving option of the Texans' offense, the future is bright for Hopkins.”