With the 27th pick of last month's NFL draft, the Houston Texans selected Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, hopeful that he would become the complement to Andre Johnson that the team has lacked for years.
With that said, there's a good chance that Hopkins can be a fair bit more than that.
In 2012, the Offensive Rookie of the Year Race was over almost before it started. Quarterbacks Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins and Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts were the prohibitive favorites before they ever took a snap.
We knew one of the two would all but certainly win. We just didn't know which one.
This year, however, the field is wide open. With no top-tier quarterback prospect waiting to hog all the glory (quarterbacks win awards...it's just how it is), odds are good that a non-passer will bring home the hardware for the first time since 2009.
The last time it happened, that player was Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin. This year, it could easily be a wide receiver once again, although that player will be plying his trade quite a ways south of the Emerald City.
Hopkins began his professional career over the weekend, joining other newcomers at the Texans' rookie minicamp. Nick Scurfield of the team's official website reports that Hopkins, who caught 82 passes for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns for the Tigers last year, was one of the stars of the session, catching "seemingly everything thrown his way."
Head coach Gary Kubiak was fairly effusive in his praise for Hopkins (per Scurfield):
He’s special. Ball skills are extremely special. Very long; long arms. Big hands; you saw the catch he made out here. He’s going to help us early, and we know that, and that’s why we brought him here.
Not only is the 6'1", 214-pound Hopkins a talented youngster who the NFL Network's Mike Mayock says "competes as well as anyone I've seen," but the stage appears to be set for Hopkins to make just the kind of early impact that can net a rookie a big shiny trophy.
First off, there's little doubt that Hopkins will see significant action from the get-go. The Texans have been looking for an effective partner for Andre Johnson in the past several seasons with little success. There isn't a player on Houston's roster with any real shot of beating Hopkins out to be the No. 2 receiver for the Texans.
There should be plenty of opportunities for Hopkins to put up numbers, perhaps more so than the other first-year wideouts this season.
Tavon Austin of the St. Louis Rams may well be the most dangerous receiver on his team and will probably be treated as such by opposing defenses.
Cordarrelle Patterson of the Minnesota Vikings isn't as polished as Hopkins, and while Houston quarterback Matt Schaub isn't going to be confused with Tom Brady any time soon, Schaub is a much more proven commodity under center than Minnesota's Christian Ponder.
There's also no Luck or RGIII entering the league this season. Granted, E.J. Manuel of the Buffalo Bills and Geno Smith of the New York Jets may well start Week 1 for their respective teams, but the odds are heavily stacked against them having the sort of impact that Luck or Griffin did.
That's no knock on the pair as players. They just don't appear as NFL-ready as last year's bumper crop of signal-callers were.
Finally, this year's draft class was also light where high-end talent at running back is concerned. For the first time in half a century, no running backs were taken in the first round of the NFL draft.
That isn't to say that there weren't some talented ball-carriers in this year's bunch. Montee Ball of the Denver Broncos and Le'Veon Bell of the Pittsburgh Steelers look to have the inside track to start as rookies.
With that said, though, neither is considered a "can't-miss" NFL star. No back in this year's draft class was. At best, they'll be starting the race for OROY on equal footing with Hopkins.
Now this doesn't mean that Hopkins should start clearing off space on his mantle for that trophy just yet. There's a lot of football to be played between now and December, and he's still going to have to put up the numbers.
For his part, Hopkins was just glad to get the journey underway and hit the field (per The Associated Press, h/t The Washington Post):
It felt great just to put on the helmet. I’ve been doing a bunch of talking, and I felt like a president almost being up on podiums and talking. So it felt great just to come out here just doing what I love.
The time for talking is finished now, and if DeAndre Hopkins lets his talent do the talking during his first NFL season, then the Texans will finally have found a playmate for Andre Johnson.
And we may well have found the 2013 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
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