Following his stunning trade to Arizona, DeAndre Hopkins will play in a Cardinals offense that will see the All-Pro receiver as the final piece of the puzzle in the passing game. The Houston Texans made the remarkable decision to deal Hopkins to the Cardinals in return for David Johnson and a second-round pick.
While the merits, or lack thereof, of the trade will continue to be a topic of intense discussion in Houston, the Cardinals can look ahead with excitement at the thought of fitting him into their offense. History suggests he should slot in seamlessly.
Few receivers have produced more consistently than Hopkins since he entered the NFL in 2013. He has topped 1,000 yards in five of his seven seasons in the league and has twice surpassed 1,500 yards. The Cardinals have for too long been overly reliant on Larry Fitzgerald, who again led Arizona with 75 catches for 804 yards in 2019.
Fitzgerald’s longevity is nothing short of incredible. However, the burden must be taken off the veteran as he enters his 17th season in the league. Adding a receiver with Hopkins’ blend of size, route-running ability, and dominance at the catch point is the perfect way to do that.
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His build and body control are often the first things that come to mind when Hopkins is talked about. However, even for a receiver whose reputation as one of the best in the NFL is solidified, Hopkins’ intelligence as a route-runner is underrated.
New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore was on the receiving end of a Hopkins masterclass in that department in Week 1 of 2019. Hopkins caught eight passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns.
The first of those scores was a consequence of great patience displayed by Hopkins, who waited for Lattimore to attack with a jam, which he subsequently swatted away before breaking inside and hauling in a routine catch.
In the fourth quarter, Hopkins put the Texans in position to take the lead by again beating Lattimore for a 38-yard gain with a superbly executed double move.
Despite lacking the speed of other elite receivers, Hopkins excels at making plays downfield and hauled in a 30-yard touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 12 by gaining outside leverage with a fake jab step to the inside.
Hopkins’ ball-tracking ability was key to the 38-yard reception in New Orleans and the touchdown versus Indianapolis. His concentration in looking the ball in and body control that allows him to make circus catches are what separate him from receivers over a similar build.
Not surprisingly given his 6’1″ and 212-pound frame, Hopkins excels at boxing out defenders, which he did with consummate ease on this touchdown in the International Series clash with the Jacksonville Jaguars last year.
What sets him apart, however, are the circus catches he has come to make routine, perhaps the most spectacular of which came in the Texans’ Christmas Day game with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2017.
Hopkins would have had a better reception on his resume had offsetting penalties not chalked off an utterly remarkable grab versus the Miami Dolphins in 2018, which saw him bring the ball down through his legs and hang on.
Players who possess Hopkins’ skillset are rare. To say the Cardinals have been fortunate to get him for the price they paid is putting it mildly, even if the Pro Football Network Offensive Share Metric (OSM) data suggests he was not the most essential skill-position player for the Texans last season.
The fit in Arizona
OSM measures a player’s contribution to his offense’s production by using a series of algorithms and the NFL’s NextGen Stats to assess the factors only he could control.
Hopkins received a grade of 34.3, indicating a ‘very good’ level of performance. However, tight ends Jordan Akins and Darren Fells and wide receivers Will Fuller and Kenny Stills all received higher scores.
That does not suggest they performed to a superior level than Hopkins, who was Houston’s leading receiver with 104 catches for 1,165 yards and seven touchdowns. It indicates that those players had a more significant influence on the offense.
Their position above him in the rankings is more likely reflective of the big-play upside of Stills and Fuller – who played his most games in a season since 2017 – and Watson’s faith increased faith in Fells and Akins.
Stills and Fuller averaged 14 and 13.7 yards per reception last year, while Fells (341 yards, 7 touchdowns) and Akins (418 yards, 2 touchdowns) were each significant contributors relied upon in crucial situations.
Arizona lacks options at tight end, but they have a very similar set up in terms of receiving weapons. Fitzgerald continues to defy Father Time and excels on the short and intermediate routes. In Christian Kirk, the Cardinals have a legitimate field-stretcher, and the speedy Andy Isabella has the potential to affect the game in the same way.
Between them, the Cardinals’ cast of receivers can help ensure Hopkins draws the single coverage he has made a living out of decimating. Murray has never had a target like Hopkins, who can turn any throw into a completion, and his inclusion should see this Cardinals offense reach the kind of heights that he scales on a weekly basis.