The Houston Texans' selection of former Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (No. 27) in the first round of the NFL draft made a lot of sense. The Texans needed a playmaker to line up opposite of perennial Pro Bowler Andre Johnson to help their offense become more dynamic, and Hopkins should be the guy to provide that threat on the outside.
In Johnson's 10 years with the Texans since being drafted No. 3 overall back in 2003 out of Miami, he's amassed more than 11,000 receiving yards and grabbed 56 touchdowns. Six of Johnson's 10 NFL seasons have produced more than 1,000 yards receiving.
Johnson finished the 2012 season as the NFL's No. 2 receiver with 1,598 yards. He's the real deal and was a big part of the Texans making it to the divisional round of the playoffs for the second year in a row.
The Texans finished the 2012 season in the top 10 in the NFL in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The offense averaged 26 points per game during the regular season and the defense gave up an average of just over 20 points per game. These are fantastic numbers and show the Texans aren't that far off from where they want to be.
When Texans owner Bob McNair came out back in January and shared his thoughts with John McClain of the Houston Chronicle on what he felt the teams needs were, the first thing he mentioned was a playmaker opposite Johnson.
We need another playmaker (at receiver). We want more speed at receiver. Andre (Johnson) had a great year, but we can’t expect him to carry the load for all the receivers.
This means the pick of Hopkins shouldn't have surprised anyone, but how can his skills open up the Texans offense specifically?
First thing is first. Let's see the skill set that Hopkins brings to the table. Here's a quick blurb on Hopkins from NFL.com.
Will threaten the top of defenses with NFL-quality straight-line speed. Possesses strong hands in traffic, not afraid of contact downfield and can separate at the last second with an arm extension.
When you see those skills from Hopkins in video form, you'll understand what the Texans had envisioned when they selected him in the first round.
In this first video clip, you'll get a chance to see Hopkins get off press man coverage at the line of scrimmage and make a quick catch on the slant in traffic, then proceed to make a move in the open field and pick up the first down.
He also showed field awareness and a high football IQ to know where he needed to get for the first down. He was matched up with fellow first-round pick, Florida State's Xavier Rhodes, who was selected No. 25 overall by the Minnesota Vikings, on this play.
In this next clip you'll get to see his ability to get down the field and make a big play. Hopkins is at the top of the screen and runs a simple double move and blows by the defender for a long touchdown pass. His ability to get over the top of a defense along with his physicality to catch passes in short, high-traffic areas will suit him well in the Texans offense.
The next few screen shots are just basic examples of how defenses might have to adjust if Hopkins comes into the league and becomes the player the Texans are hoping they drafted.
In this first picture you'll see Johnson lined up to the top and DeVier Posey lined up at the bottom of the screen for the Texans. The Patriots have a safety lined up over Posey's side, but as you'll notice in the next few pictures, that safety is more concerned with helping across the middle on the tight end than he is anyone getting over the top.
As Texans quarterback Matt Schaub is dropping back, the Patriots safety has turned his body to fully dedicate his attention to Owen Daniels coming up the field between the hash marks. If Posey had run a "go" route in an attempt to get over the top of the defense, he'd be in a one-on-one situation. He doesn't run a "go" route but instead cuts off the route and gets outside. There isn't any separation, and he's not able to secure the pass despite the ball hitting him in the hands.
It's not about whether Hopkins could have made that catch or that Posey wouldn't be able to catch the next one. It's simply that a more dynamic player on that side of the field would potentially take more of the defense's attention, and that would positively affect everyone else on the offense. Daniels wouldn't have a safety helping across the middle like he did on the play above, Arian Foster wouldn't have defensive backs cheating down and Andre Johnson might not be the only red-zone target who's a legitimate threat.
Obviously we're just looking at one play, and we don't know the specific calls or responsibilities for the defense. But if the Texans found a playmaker in Hopkins, there's going to have to be more concern shown for the opposite side of the field from Johnson. That backside safety won't be able to cheat down as easily, and that should even help open things up for running back Foster, who finished sixth in the NFL in rushing last season with 1,424 yards.
If Hopkins can become the kind of playmaker where defenses have to respect his ability to get over the top, he's already succeeded in giving the Texans what they were looking for whether he's putting up big numbers or not.