Purdue isn’t known for producing high-quality NFL Draft prospects. They haven’t produced a Day 2 pick since 2013, when the Carolina Panthers took Kawann Short in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft. They haven’t produced a first round draft pick since 2011 when the Washington Redskins selected Ryan Kerrigan. However, the Boilermakers have been showing signs of life lately and have some strong prospects for the next few years.

Purdue’s best prospect for the coming NFL Draft is currently tight end Brycen Hopkins. Hopkins finished eleventh in receiving yards for all tight ends last year. Of the eleven players ahead of him, seven left for the NFL Draft, opening the door for Hopkins to step up as one of the elite tight end prospects. So what does Hopkins do well, and what does he need to work on?

Games Wacthed: Nebraska, Missouri, Michigan State

Strengths

Functional Athleticism

Hopkins isn’t going to wow anybody with a 4.5 40. However, he possesses the requisite ability to outrun most linebackers and explode for some separation. This shows up on the stat sheet as Hopkins has 8 career receptions of 30 yards or more. You can even catch him hurdling defenders a few times across his tape:

Size

Standing at 6’5 and weighing in at 245, Hopkins certainly has the size to be an NFL tight end. This size gives him a competitive advantage because its pretty rare you’ll find any linebacker as fast as him or a defensive-back that can contest him. Hopkins brings a blend of size and speed that is a necessity in today’s game.

Hands / Contested Catch Ability

Hopkins has a knack for the big catch. He always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He does a good job of snagging he ball out of the air and seems very comfortable catching it in stride. However, he suffers from the occasional concentration drop, and it happens more commonly when nobody’s around him. Here you’ll see Hopkins high point a ball that could’ve been intercepted had he not reached up and snatched it:

Route Running

It’s rare to find tight ends that are polished coming out of college. Hopkins shows that he has a fundamental understanding of how to properly run a route, and create separation. I’m not sure there’s any tight end in this year’s NFL Draft who creates better separation. Hopkins has an excellent tendency of finding busted coverage and making teams pay. His film is littered with plays of him being this wide open:

Zone Recognition

Going hand in hand with his route running is Hopkins ability to read zone coverage. Finding the soft spot in a zone is huge in the NFL. You become a lethal threat on third downs and in the red zone if you can do so consistently. Here, Hopkins identifies the pocket he has, slows his route, catches the ball and scores.

Weaknesses

Run Blocking

Hopkins has shown a willingness to block, but he’s just not very good at it. In fact, I actually think he’s a better pass blocker than run blocker. He gets to his man but rarely provides any push and doesn’t stay on for long. Hopkins has the requisite size to be a plus blocker in the NFL, he just needs to develop the ‘want’; the drive to move people out of the way.

Touchdown Production

I don’t put a ton of stock into production, especially not at an underutilized position like tight end. However, there is a slight concern when someone like Hopkins only has 5 touchdown receptions as a full-time starter. In fact, Hopkins’ best season for touchdowns was his freshman season when he had 4 trips to the endzone on only 10 receptions. Since then he has 5 touchdowns on 59 receptions. I’d like to see a bit more production in the endzone, but it’s unlikely it will influence my final grade.

NFL Draft Preview

Brycen Hopkins is one of my favorite prospects to watch so far. His natural separation is elite and he has a knack for the big play. He finds gaps in zone coverage and presents a mismatch nightmare with his blend of size and speed. He still has things to work on, like bringing more fire as a blocker, or trying to produce more touchdowns. However, even without those, he’s still a strong NFL prospect. Hopkins is Purdue’s best draft prospect in the past 5 years, and I’m very excited to see what he does this season.

Matt Valdovinos is a writer for PFN covering the NFL Draft and Big Ten Football. You can follow him @MVScouting on Twitter.