REASONS DEANDRE HOPKINS WILL REGRESS
- The target volume Hopkins garnered last year is unsustainable.
- The Texans will have more positive game scripts that lead to less passing.
- Hopkins will have increased competition from Will Fuller V, Keke Coutee, and whoever emerges from the tight end group.
Our projectors at Footballguys all disagree with this stance, but there is a compelling case to be made for DeAndre Hopkins not finishing near the top of the heap again. Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat it. We’ve seen this story play out just two seasons prior to this one. Yet there will be owners chasing last year’s production and drafting Hopkins as the first or second receiver off the board. An early-to-mid first-round ADP assumes that Hopkins will be a top producer at his position again this year; but decreased target volume, better game scripts, and increased competition make that a low-probability bet.
THE PERFECT STORM
DeAndre Hopkins had 96 receptions,1,378 receiving yards, and 13 touchdowns - enough to put him first in fantasy scoring over Antonio Brown in some formats. Aside from being a talented player, why did Hopkins have such a big jump in production? To say last year was a best-case scenario for DeAndre Hopkins is not a stretch. The team as a whole struggled with injuries, making game scripts unfavorable. Far behind in most contests, the Texans were forced to throw the ball more often. Injuries also befell Hopkins’ competition for targets. Will Fuller V, Bruce Ellington, Ryan Griffin, and C.J. Fiedorowicz all missed multiple games, freeing up opportunities in the passing game. As we will see, these factors are unlikely to occur again this year.
Last year, Hopkins was targeted at the highest rate in the NFL-- nearly 34 percent of the team’s passes were directed to him. He caught 55 percent of those targets. Unless Hopkins is targeted at the same rate or becomes dramatically more efficient at catching his targets, it’s impossible for him to surpass last year’s totals. Also, recall that we saw a similar pattern occur with Hopkins in the 2015 and 2016 years. The Texans were struggling to find contributors on offense. They started four different quarterbacks in that span-- Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallet, T.J. Yates, and Brandon Weeden. These quarterbacks peppered Hopkins with an unprecedented number of passes. When the offense stabilized and the volume dropped in 2016, Hopkins suffered, generating 567 fewer yards and 7 fewer touchdowns. It’s reasonable to expect regression due to better game flow for the Texans and increased competition from other pass catchers.
POSITIVE GAME SCRIPTS
The Texans were often forced to play from behind. In the nine games Deshaun Watson didn’t play, quarterbacks attempted 321 passes, which averages over 35 attempts a game. In comparison, when Watson was in and the offense was flowing, he attempted on average only 29 passes. The Texans are slated to have the easiest strength of schedule this year. This, combined with the return of Watson and other supporting cast members who spent much of last year injured, is sure to produce better game scripts with more rushes and less passing.
While Hopkins will still lead the pack, his nearly 41 percent stranglehold on the market share of team targets should slacken with a healthier year from his competition. Will Fuller V struggled with injury and was targeted only 50 times. His portion is bound to grow. We’ve heard a consistent drumbeat in organized team activities that the rookie Keke Coutee has been impressing and will have a role. Bruce Ellington admirably filled in for the injured Fuller last year before he himself was injured. There will be some opportunities diverted to him. It’s hard to know on which tight end the Texans will primarily rely, but Stephen Anderson is most likely to be that guy. The group is now healthy and will siphon away opportunities. With fewer passes being thrown and those opportunities being spread across different personnel, Hopkins’ receptions, yardage, and touchdown total are sure to shrink.
DeAndre Hopkins may be a fun talent to cheer for on Sundays, but for fantasy purposes, there are better players for owners to take at his current ADP. The perfect storm of factors that led to a massive season in 2017 just isn’t present this year. With more favorable game scripts, other players emerging to catch balls, and decreased target volume, it’s virtually impossible for Hopkins to return value on investment.
THOUGHTS FROM THE FOOTBALLGUYS MESSAGE BOARD
TheDirtyWord thinks positional considerations are the only reason not to take Watson:
"He didn't miss a beat when Deshaun went down which makes you feel better about him not being QB1 contingent. But QB2 on the Texans won't be Savage. That said, Hopkins is simply one of the best talents at the WR position in the game and if Watson is (and remains healthy), Hopkins will be in the overall WR1 conversation. With first half + of Round 1 being RB dominant, Hopkins is likely more of a late first rounder. The question to ask is - is the drop off between Melvin Gordon III/Dalvin Cook to Devonta Freeman/LeSean McCoy greater/less than Hopkins versus Davante Adams/Michael Thomas.”
travdogg has optimism that Hopkins can sustain his pace:
"I'm not sure that last year is unsustainable. He spent half the season with Tom Savage. His targets were the most in the NFL, and they haven't made any additions to change that. Hopkins is arguably the best WR in the NFL at adjusting to poorly thrown balls, and he's in the top-5 at coming up with 50-50 balls. Watson showed he wasn't afraid at all to throw to Hopkins even when covered.”
Andy Dufresne forecasts improvement:
“His numbers are repeatable and exceedable. The thing that should be easily recognizable is that Watson is not afraid to get the ball in places where Hopkins can make a play on it - and O'Brien seems smart enough to let him. Aside from the Jaguars twice, Eagles once, and maybe the Broncos, their schedule looks pretty soft. He could eclipse 100/1500/15.”
Brian DeWester of the LWOS Network sees regression coming for Hopkins:
“Since Deshaun Watson is a regression candidate, it would make sense that his wide receivers would also take a hit. Although DeAndre Hopkins is the safest of the two options, he should see a dip in his target totals and his touchdowns.”
“DeAndre Hopkins probably won't be the first receiver taken in your draft, but he'll probably be the second. The 6-foot-1 craftsman with big hands and a knack for making plays has topped 150 targets each of his last three seasons, topping the 90-catch, 1,300-yard, and 10-touchdown marks in both. He would have made it three straight but ... you know ... Brock Osweiler. Entering his sixth season, Hopkins should have Deshaun Watson back under center and Will Fuller V stretching defenses on the other side of the field, making it likely he'll dominate his competition based on his high target volume. The most consistent wideout in Fantasy last year, Hopkins will be a first-round pick in all scoring formats, likely right after Antonio Brown. If you're picking 10th or later, you're not going to get him.”
Joseph Robert of Fantasy Football Counselor believes Hopkins’ output is tied to the health of his quarterback:
“The key factor here is the health of Deshaun Watson… There’s so much hype around him and I’m not sold on the hype… The guy played seven games last year. What’s outstanding about those games. He had 19 passing touchdowns, five of which came in week five… three of those touchdowns went to DeAndre Hopkins… I’m not sold on him. I need to see more out of him. He had three monster games.”