The Houston Texans are going to have a much different look in 2020 without their franchise favorite and star receiver, DeAndre Hopkins. The Texans recently traded Hopkins and a 2020 fourth-round pick to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson and a 2020 second-round pick. The perennial Pro Bowler was a model of dependability and a consistent big-play threat for quarterback Deshaun Watson. Beyond that, Hopkins was a staple in the Houston community, fans and players alike will miss him dearly. Houston will need to replace him sooner rather than later and could use the 2021 NFL Draft to find some exciting wide receiver targets.
In the short-term, the Texans may be able to keep the ship afloat behind Watson and a trio of familiar faces like Will Fuller, Kenny Stills, and slot man Keke Coutee. This group may be able to suffice for the 2020 season. However, the Texans will eventually need to find some help down the line with the 2021 NFL Draft. The 2021 draft offers an explosive group of receivers, five of which I’ve chronicled recently for Pro Football Network. Below I will discuss the state of the Houston offense currently and some future options to help boost their passing attack.
Houston, we have a problem
Since the questionable trade that sent Hopkins to Arizona at the start of the legal tampering period on Monday, many have questioned coach Bill O’Brien and the direction of this Houston team. On Monday, reports even surfaced about friction between Hopkins and O’Brien within the Texans organization.
As shocking on the surface and unpopular as the DeAndre Hopkins trade is, multiple sources noted throughout past year that friction existed between him and Bill O'Brien that could ultimately lead to his exit. And it did today. How they pivot from this will be interesting
— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) March 16, 2020
It will be fascinating to see how the Texans recover from losing such a vital member of their playoff run in 2019. Hopkins is not a player that you can replace overnight. His loss leaves a hole the size of a crater in the Houston receiving corps. The former Clemson Tiger posted three seasons of over 100 plus catches and 11 or more touchdowns since being drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Hopkins routinely made ridiculous, one-handed catches and showed the ability to come down with any balls thrown in his general vicinity. Take a look below at this ridiculous one-handed grab against one of the NFL’s premier corners in Miami Dolphins’ Xavien Howard.
This play didn't count … BUT HOW DID DEANDRE HOPKINS CATCH THAT??
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 26, 2018
Even without Hopkins, Houston is not devoid of talent at the wide receiver position. The Texans have another former first-rounder in Fuller, who is a player that has experienced a great deal of success in Houston when healthy. If Fuller can stay healthy for a full season, he could be their de-facto number-one receiver in 2020.
Stills also had some success with the Texans last year following a preseason trade from the Dolphins. He averaged 14.0 yards per catch and scored four touchdowns during his first year in Houston. Stills still has a decent amount of talent and upside but has shown he is more of a number two or number three type wide receiver. Coutee and fellow slot receiver DeAndre Carter split reps in the number three role last season and continue to flash occasionally. The Texans also added free agent Randall Cobb from the Cowboys for three years and $27 million. Houston’s current wide receivers are all solid role players for Watson and this Houston offense.
Replacing a stalwart at wide receiver
The Texans could look to replace Hopkins by traveling back to the familiar confines of Memorial Field and Clemson University. One prospect I’ve previously discussed on this site is junior-to-be and 2021 Draft darling Justyn Ross. The Clemson star receiver is one of the top-five players available at the position heading into the 2020 college season. Ross is a similar player to Hopkins, with decent speed, big hands, and outstanding leaping ability. That leaping ability allows him to twist and contort his body to make insane catches, just in the way Hopkins has done in his career with Houston.
While it is too early to predict just how early Ross will hear his name called in the 2021 NFL Draft, he would be an excellent fit for the Texans. He is the true alpha-type and number-one receiver that Watson needs in this offense to be successful. In addition to Ross, another wide receiver and draft target that could interest Houston is Memphis Tigers’ receiver, Damonte Coxie.
PFN’s own Chris Spooner recently spoke glowingly about Coxie as a potential sleeper in the 2021 NFL Draft. Spooner speaks to Coxie’s “competitive toughness” and “superb body control” as two of his biggest strengths. Those two qualities would also seem to describe Hopkins, the former Texans’ great. Take a look at Coxie below as he goes up between two defenders and uses his body to shield them for the spectacular grab.
2020 Draft Prospect
Damonte Coxie – @DCoxie_
This is absolutely an under the radar guy despite being one of the top 20 college players in receiving yards in 2018. At 6’3 this Memphis receiver has great size for an X receiver and and could really develop into a legit NFL prospect pic.twitter.com/C86iDJehP6
— Garret Price (@DynastyPrice) August 13, 2019
Body control is the biggest plus between Ross and Coxie and could lead the Texans to select one of them to replace Hopkins next April. Coxie is also a tremendous blocker in the run game, which bodes well for new addition David Johnson. Unlike Ross, Coxie will be a great option after the first round for the Texans.
Always hard to say goodbye
The Arizona and Houston trade may still be the most head-scratching and shocking move of the 2020 offseason thus far. In a time with so much uncertainty and instability this past week, the NFL became business as usual in its own crazy, exciting way. Both teams added some serious firepower via this blockbuster trade and should see immediate dividends at the start of the 2020 season. Houston now has their most talented, all-around back since the amazing Arian Foster, while Hopkins teams with the legendary receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, to form a truly dynamic receiving corps for Kyler Murray.
Even with the loss of Hopkins, Houston should still find themselves in the playoff mix behind Watson and an upstart running game, while Arizona is now a young team on the rise. Houston will have the opportunity to replace Watson behind the ultra-talented 2020 NFL Draft class at the receiver position. Still, without a first-round pick, that will be an extremely tough task.
The team could look to use their draft capital in 2020 to improve their defense and offensive line, before focusing on Hopkins’ long-term replacement in 2021. The options will be aplenty for Houston as the 2021 Draft class has some great targets at the wide receiver position and might be the most talented we have seen in a long time.
Scott Gorman is a writer for PFN covering the 2021 NFL Draft. You can follow him at @sgormanPFN on Twitter.