First Round: 27th Pick
Most of the talk about Clemson's passing game and NFL futures going into this year was about quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Turn the page to the pre-draft season, and DeAndre "Nuke" Hopkins is getting a lot of love for a game that doesn't impress you with measureables, but instead underrated qualities that make a wide receiver very productive and valuable at the pro level.
Hopkins is going to his damage with pinpoint routes and outstanding ball skills. He creates separation by subtly changing speeds and generally keeps cornerbacks off balance for the entire game. Hopkins has long arms and outstanding hands at full extension. He almost always times his leaps perfectly and makes climbing the ladder for a high pass look very easy. Hopkins also runs tough after the catch and always has a strategy in place to elude the defender once he secures the ball.
Hopkins is just average when it comes speed and quickness. He sometimes has trouble when he has to compete for the ball in the air, and he can be re-routed and disrupted by press coverage. Hopkins lacks the jets and phone booth quicks to be a real threat to break long plays after the catch and he won't take the top off of defense.
Solidly built at 6'1" 214, Hopkins 33 3/8" arms and 10" hands both come into play a lot when he is catching the ball outside of his frame. His 36" vertical is apparent when gets up for those passes, and his leap timing maximizes that explosion. Hopkins ran a somewhat poor 4.57 40 and 4.5 short shuttle at the combine, which is consistent with a player that doesn't create separation with sheer speed or sudden lateral agility.
Hopkins appears to be a passionate, competitive player. He played for Clemson's basketball team and led his high school team to a state championship. Hopkins is also durable and tough, playing in the 2012 Orange Bowl even after suffering a concussion in a car accident a week before it.
Hopkins has a good enough first step for a bigger receiver, and he uses that step to set up the defensive back for the eventual route he is going to run. His get-off has enough burst to get him into the route tree quickly and eat up cushion even though he isn't a burner. Hopkins can fight off the jam and still be successful against physical corners.
This is where Hopkins really shines. He puts on a clinic with razor-sharp cuts and jab steps in his routes that disguise his intentions until the last nanosecond. Hopkins also subtly changes speeds to keep the cornerback off balance, which is a lethal combination with his precise breaks. Hopkins often leaves his man grasping at air with his routes like an elusive running back.
Another strength for Hopkins is his ability to get his eyes up and body ready to make the reception immediately out of his break. He clearly processes information very quickly and acts with the same precision and instantaneous reaction.
Hopkins is willing to get physical with a defensive back to get open, but he can also be re-routed and is not going to manhandle smaller corners. While he isn't going out-quick or outrun any except the slowest and most sluggish corners, his route-running ability creates plenty of separation, including deep ball separation on double moves.
Hopkins isn't the most reliable hands catcher, but drops are not a big problem, and his hands are certainly dependable enough to not worry about this at the pro level. He is most sure-handed on catches outside of his frame, especially those above his head.
Hopkins might have the best ball skills in this entire class. His leap timing is uncanny, giving him the ability to pogo stick up to a pass that the defensive back can't reach. Even short passes with good velocity are snagged by Hopkins when he has to climb the ladder to get them. He is outstanding at adjusting to the ball in flight and will be a killer in the red zone on fade routes. Hopkins is a natural catching the ball outside of his frame, and his long arms give him a big catch radius. He'll be a quarterback's best friend in the NFL.
Run After Catch
Hopkins lacks the physical tools to be a threat to take the ball to the house or elude multiple defenders, but he is still very aware and dangerous after the catch. He transitions to run after catch immediately and always has a strategy and plan when he engages a would-be tackler. His balance is excellent, and Hopkins has a variety of moves to try to thwart his opponent. While Hopkins is aggressive-minded after catch, his moves are often barely not sudden enough to completely avoid being stopped, resulting in many shoestring tackles.
Hopkins is a strong and willing blocker. He isn't a mauler, but he is not a liability and should not turn off teams that expect a big contribution in this area.
Scheme Versatility/Future Role
Hopkins should transition to the pros with ease. He'll be a perfect No. 2 wide receiver for a team that has a burner on the other side to keep the deep safety's attention. His polish as a route-runner and well-rounded game could make him an instant starter. He can work well in any kind of passing attack, but might fit best in a West Coast offense because of the precision of his routes, quick reactions and savvy instincts after the catch.