DeAndre Hopkins is the most exciting news to come to the desert since the invention of the air conditioner. And while this lopsided trade robbery has been widely debated and argued online for several months now, it’s time to move on from Bill O’Brien being the Arizona Cardinal’s second-best GM and onto fantasy impacts. Last time it was Kyler Murray. This week, we look at Deandre Hopkins’ fantasy projection for 2020.
If you’re reading this you don’t need an explanation that DeAndre “Nuk” Hopkins is one of the best, if not the best receiver in the NFL. Oven mitts for hands, speed, contested catching ability, and alpha mentality are all accurate descriptions of Nuk’s generational talent. But if you’re reading this you also know that fantasy output may not exactly mirror actual team impact.
Considering Hopkins is the third-best receiver in the league, at his worst, it might be a bit of a shock that he was WR5 behind Michael Thomas, Chris Godwin, Julio Jones, and Cooper Kupp for fantasy PPR in 2019. Which makes for some interesting consideration come draft time.
Today we answer the question of what is DeAndre Hopkins’ fantasy projection for the 2020 season?
The Eye Test
When it comes to data I’m a total nerd. Bar graphs and pie charts can be just as fascinating to me as trying to stop the microwave at 00:01 to beat the beep. But I’m also a fan of the game and I understand the immense value data provides, while also knowing that fantasy football carries with it certain variables that can’t always be predicted through charts and numbers.
DeAndre Hopkins statistically is elite. No doubt, no debate. But can you expect a boost in Hopkins’ fantasy projection coming to Arizona?
On paper it seems so. You have Kyler Murray coming off an Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign, a wide receiver core that features future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, an underrated run game anchored by Kenyan Drake, and a vastly improved offensive line that should allow Hopkins the opportunity to develop his routes.
This is important in the Cardinals offense. They did not acquire Hopkins primarily for slants and short routes. They have Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, and Andy Isabella for that. There was a strong need for a deep threat receiver, someone who could reliably allow Kyler to put the ball deep down the field. So it looks like Hopkins will fill that role and see more 1-on-1 man cover on deep routes. But can reality match the expectation?
Durability is an important factor when talking about top 10 fantasy players. Wasting a first or second round pick on a guy who misses games can destroy a season. So where does Hopkins stack up?
DeAndre Hopkins played in 110 of a total 112 eligible games since joining the Houston Texans in 2013. Both of the games he missed were in week 17 for rest purposes.
Not only has Hopkins played in all but two games in the 140 weeks he has been in the NFL, he has only appeared on the injury report 20 times including preseason. Three times since 2018.
Can’t get him off the field
Injury reports and missed games aside, Hopkins has been on the field for more than 90% of all team snaps every year besides his rookie season. And in that season he lined up on 89% of snaps.
Nuk’s durability also places him well above the other receivers that outpaced his fantasy points in 2019. Michael Thomas has missed seven games in four seasons and has never lined up for more than 89% of his team’s snaps in any season. Chris Godwin has started 21 of his teams 48 games with snap counts of 41%, 64%, and 82%. Julio Jones has started 125 of a total 144 games never exceeding a 90% snap count, and Cooper Kupp is sitting at 28 out of 48 games and an 80% ceiling on snap counts.
If durability is a priority, which it should be, then DeAndre Hopkins’ fantasy projection is the undisputed WR1. But, of course, durability is not the only factor.
Receptions are where Hopkins is receiving his biggest pushback from fantasy analysts. Having only eclipsed the 100 receptions mark in three of his seven seasons, PPR leagues should be hesitant to take him over other receivers that will see no less than 100 receptions this season.
And of all the arguments against drafting Hopkins in the top three, this is the one that carries the most weight.
Not only has Hopkins surpassed 100 receptions in less than 50% of his professional career, he now lines up on an offense that carries multiple weapons. Arizona also has a dramatically undervalued run game, and two tight ends that are expected to see an increased role in their passing offense.
Supporting cast – help or hurt?
Of course, from the eye test, there is an argument to be made that having a better receiving core around Hopkins could increase his value. And it makes sense. In Houston, any defensive coordinator only had to game plan Hopkins. Many times you could line up your CB2 and CB3 on a double team, and give your CB1 a slight break having to cover whoever the WR2 was. A scheme popularized by Bill Belichick. Hopkins would still get his looks, but he couldn’t control the game to the level we all know he’s capable of.
However, in this offense there will be no double team options. You have an elite quarterback who can get the ball to at least six viable options either through the air or on the ground.
Another consideration for why Hopkins hasn’t surpassed 100 receptions in four seasons could be due to the quarterbacks he had. Hopkins surpassed 100 receptions in 2015, 2018, and 2019. 2015 had Brian Hoyer for 11 games, and 2018/19 had Deshaun Watson. Every other year had forgettable quarterbacks.
The Cardinals struggled in several key categories in 2019. While they did grow immensely as the season progressed, they only won five games, and with some obvious causes. One of the major areas where they struggled mightily was in the red zone.
This serves as yet another reason why acquiring Hopkins means more to the Cardinals than just the headline value of acquiring an elite receiver. Hopkins wasn’t a league leader in yards or touchdowns from the red zone, but he also had far fewer looks because of the aforementioned defensive matchups. And it is easier to shut any receiver down on a shorter field.
But again, Arizona has more weapons than Houston had, and Hopkins ability to catch uncatchable balls is not up for debate. I won’t argue that Hopkins will suddenly and miraculously be the #1 red zone receiver in the NFL in 2020. But you take a team with multiple weapons that passes first and it’s reasonable to expect an increase in red zone opportunities.
The “new team” effect is real. We saw it happen with Odell Beckham Jr’s decline going from the Giants to the Browns. In fact, since 2001, when looking at top 16 WR’s for fantasy production, only four have increased their PPR points per game after moving to a new team – David Boston, Terrell Owens, Brandon Marshall, and Randy Moss.
Some of this could be attributed to new schemes, familiarity with a quarterback, or unfamiliarity of opposing defenses.
But for quarterbacks, David Boston went from Jake Plummer to Drew Brees, Terrell Owens from Jeff Garcia to Donovan McNabb, Brandon Marshall from Matt Moore to Jay Cutler, and Randy Moss from a split Andrew Walter, Aaron Brooks to Tom Brady.
I see a pattern developing. From appearances only, it seems the biggest hope for not declining in a season where a receiver lines up on a new team is based on quarterbacks. So the question is just as much the growth of Kyler Murray as it is Hopkins’ ability to play on a new team.
Michael Thomas, in my mind, is the hands down WR1 for any fantasy league this season, especially PPR. He has the receptions and red zone looks to vault him well above any other receiver in the league, especially DeAndre Hopkins. Same goes for Julio Jones who also has 2” and 10 lbs on Hopkins where size matters in the red zone.
But due to a Cardinals offense that seeks to put the ball in the air, and has a supporting cast that is far superior to what Hopkins had in Houston, its reasonable to assume that Hopkins won’t regress. At worst I would expect DeAndre Hopkins fantasy projection to flat line.
It’s not just on Nuk
The biggest assumptions you’ll need to mitigate in a draft will be how well Kyler Murray can improve in his second year, and how effective Kliff Kingsbury is at getting Hopkins 100+ opportunities.
We already know Kyler was the most accurate deep ball passer in the entire NFL in 2019, which you can read more about here. And we also know that Kliff Kingsbury wants to run 10 personnel as much as possible, a clear cut desire for a pass heavy offense.
We also know that DeAndre Hopkins has catching ability that neither Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin, nor almost any other receiver can surpass.
All this means that Hopkins is a bit of a risk in early to mid first round ADP, but still maintains top five potential. Most fantasy sites have him going early second round. While I am a bit more bullish on Hopkins than the average analyst, I can’t overlook the receptions and new team issues facing Hopkins in 2020.
Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, and Davante Adams will be gone in round 1 – guaranteed. And despite Chris Godwin now catching passes from Tom Brady, I don’t expect a massive uptick in fantasy production simply because Jameis Winston, despite his obvious flaws, was still a prolific scoring passer with over 5,000 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2019 to Brady’s 4,057 and 24.
DeAndre Hopkins fantasy projection slots him in the WR4/5 range and this does carry a bit of a risk, but a risk I would be willing to take in the late first, early second round.
Anything before that is a reach.