DeAndre Hopkins Takes Texans No. 1 Wideout Torch from Andre Johnson

Rivers McCown@riversmccownNFL AnalystDecember 2, 2014

Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) runs with the ball after catching a pass as Tennessee Titans cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (25) chases him during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 30, 2014, in Houston. The Texans won 45-21. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

DeAndre Hopkins is not your typical No. 1 wideout. 

Most football receivers coming out of the draft who get mentioned in that mold tend to have either jaw-dropping speed or incredible size. Hopkins is 6'1" and ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He still got drafted in the first round, despite so-so measurables, because his play did the talking when he was with Clemson. 

And, after a mostly lost year running seam routes that former Texans quarterback Matt Schaub wouldn't throw to under pretty much any circumstance, Hopkins has made the leap to No. 1 receiver with the Texans in 2014. 

Brian T. Smith @ChronBrianSmith

#Texans' O'Brien said @Nukdabomb deserves "all the credit" for his second-year rise. Often the last one off the field during practice.

Hopkins is currently fifth among receivers in Football Outsiders' DYAR, a year after finishing 34th out of 90 receivers under the same advanced metric. By DVOA, he's behind only Packers wideout Randall Cobb and a pair of deep-ball specialists in New Orleans' Kenny Stills and San Diego's Malcom Floyd. 

You may notice that something those receivers have in common is playing with good quarterbacks. Hopkins has yet to do that in his career. His numbers shine even brighter when you realize he's put them up despite playing with flawed quarterbacks like Schaub, Ryan Mallett, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum. 

So how does Hopkins do it? Simple: Once the ball is in the air, he's one of the most skilled in the NFL at the subtle techniques he needs to pull it down. 

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Body control

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

This is the obvious example to use for body control, as much as we've used it the last few days. On this catch against the Giants that was called back because of a penalty, Hopkins demonstrated the body control to fight his momentum back to the ball.

Source: NFL Game Rewind

Look at how much momentum he has to stop to even make this ball catchable. That's the kind of ball that half of the receivers in the league would give up on as they locked eyes with it. 

Hopkins would have had one of the catches of the season if not for the flag crew. But don't worry—there are plenty of other examples of Hopkins demonstrating what makes him great that actually did count. 

My-ball mentality

One of the most important overlooked traits for receivers is what I've heard draftniks call "my-ball mentality." Simply put, this player is going up after every ball like it's his. (If you want an example of the opposite of this, check out this piece on Justin Hunter.)

This is a back-shoulder throw in the first quarter of the Eagles-Texans game from Week 9. On a 3rd-and-2, Hopkins is able to not only win the ball but also keep it despite what I'd term a very tight contest from Eagles corner Cary Williams. 

Source: NFL Game Rewind

Williams is able to get his arm in between Hopkins' arms and generates a lot of momentum on the ball to try to push it out. Hopkins doesn't get a chance to cradle the ball. He only has his hands.

But they stay stuck on the ball, and Hopkins comes out of the collision with a first down. Hopkins hasn't always been able to hang on to tough throws this season, but he definitely has the mentality that he's going to get every one of them. 

Catch radius  

Finally, after showing you the Giants reception, I think you're aware that the radius that Hopkins can catch the ball from is quite massive. It's simple geometry: Hopkins has done a lot to help his quarterbacks out by catching tough balls. 

One example from Week 13's game against the Titans came on a simple flat route that the Texans love to use when they notice off coverage.

This route and result are very ordinary, but the catch was amazing. Hopkins had to pull out his shovel and really get down on the ball to find the catch point before it hit the ground. 

Source: NFL Game Rewind

This was the second third-down conversion in a row where Fitzpatrick was bailed out by Hopkins on an extremely low pass. It's not easy to be an NFL quarterback, but it's much easier when throws like that still become first downs. 

I looked at all Hopkins' routes last season for Football Outsiders and determined he had the opportunity to catch 90 balls in 2014. Three-quarters of the way through the season, Hopkins has caught 60. (Unfortunately, when that article was written, we did not know that Houston head coach Bill O'Brien would be quite as run-heavy as he has been this season.)

Despite the raw numbers, I'd say that Hopkins is well on his way to fulfilling his promise as a receiver. He hasn't been targeted as much as Andre Johnson, but he's made much more of the balls he has been thrown. 

Texans fans have known for some time now that the torch had already been passed. In lighting up the Titans secondary, Hopkins served notice to the rest of the nation that he had arrived, and you're going to enjoy watching him catch every ball thrown in his general vicinity.

Rivers McCown is the AFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report and the co-host of the Three-Cone Drill podcast. His work has also appeared on Football Outsiders and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at @riversmccown.


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