Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is leading the NFL in receiving yards at a record-breaking pace despite mediocre quarterback play and lack of an offensive supporting cast in only his third season, and yet, the credit given to him has been woefully underwhelming.
Yes, for his tremendous performance in Week 6, the league gave "Nuk" his first AFC Offensive Player of the Week award:
However, when examining his statistics and replaying his dominant performance, the honor was exceedingly well-deserved. In fact, even in a league full of talented players, it's somewhat unbelievable that the award was his first.
Well, unbelievable because of his talent, but unfortunately, Hopkins' status as the league's most underrated player is equal parts due to his own overachievements and his team's tendency to generally be discounted, written off or overlooked.
For example, just a little over a year ago, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made this catch...
...and well-deserved praise followed. Mountains of it.
In 2008, David Tyree caught this Eli Manning pass in Super Bowl XLII...
...and the "Helmet Catch" has since been considered one of the greatest in Super Bowl history.
On Sunday while facing the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hopkins did some fantastic impersonations of both. First it was this one-hander in the second quarter:
Did he catch that with his wrist? That's not even his dominant hand!
Then there was this unbelievable catch in the fourth quarter:
Pinning the ball against his helmet was impressive. Maintaining control was jaw-dropping. Getting both feet inbounds, though—that was almost disrespectful.
And for those who are not entirely convinced by his ability to make awe-inspiring circus catches, witness the best catch of the 2014 season that wasn't:
With only his fingertips and a fully outstretched arm, Hopkins absurdly managed to reel in that Ryan Fitzpatrick pass, but unfortunately, a penalty (unrelated to the receiver himself) negated the play.
Despite the fact that all of these grabs exhibited comparable levels of difficulty and execution, it's clear which ones will be better remembered.
Obviously, the Giants' more famous versions of the plays also performed by the Texans receiver gained their high-profile status because of the forum in which they were presented—Sunday Night Football and the Super Bowl, respectively.
But the routine nature of an afternoon game isn't the only reason that Hopkins' unbelievable performances are wrongly being overlooked, however.
NFL and fantasy football analyst Paul Charchian perfectly summarizes Hopkins' predicament in the tweet below:
The fact of the matter is, with the Texans so often spending time in the NFL cellar (partially attributed to their relative youth as a franchise) and a once-in-a-generation talent such as J.J. Watt snatching every commercial spot, highlight reel and headline, it's no wonder that Hopkins' name has yet to elevate his profile to tremendous heights.
It's no wonder, but it's still a shame.
Although the widespread popular recognition is lagging, some of the league's receiving greats, such as future Hall of Famer Randy Moss, have noticed and acknowledged the 23-year-old's elite skills, as evidenced by the Dallas Morning News' Jon Machota's tweet:
It's elite company, surpassing names such as Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas, which many could argue is too high, but with the season that Hopkins is having, it's exactly where he belongs.
Why? Well for one thing, he leads all receivers in yardage thus far in 2015.
It's an almost 100-yard lead, which coincidentally, are fewer yards than Hopkins is averaging per game. According to NFL.com, the Clemson product is churning out about 126 yards per contest for a six-game total of 726 receiving yards.
How good is that? It's historically good.
So good that, as the Houston Chronicle's Aaron Wilson points out, Hopkins is on his way to eclipsing some major marks:
But he's already setting records in the process throughout the league, as shared by NFL analyst Gil Brandt...
...and soon within the Texans franchise. The Houston Chronicle's John McClain's tweet reveals that Hopkins has matched one of his former mentor and Houston legend Andre Johnson's records:
And at the breakneck pace he's going, it's a fairly safe bet that, after 60 minutes of play against the Miami Dolphins, he'll surpass it.
It isn't as if defenses don't see him coming, either.
Despite the return of running back Arian Foster, Hopkins is doing nearly everything for the Houston offense, and as this NFL fan points out, it isn't even close:
ProFootballFocus.com's Sam Monson tells the same tale. By his count, Hopkins has been targeted 90 times this season (for a record-breaking pace of 240), and no other receiver is closer than within 15 targets of that sum.
To put it another way, according to Monson, 90 of the total 277 attempted Texans passes—32.5 percent—have been thrown to Hopkins. That's nearly a third.
In summary, this line states it best: "There might not be a more one-man offense in football this season, and yet he is delivering each week, making plays despite that extra attention."
So yes, Hopkins is technically benefiting from a lot of looks, but that isn't to say he's not seeing double coverage. He is. It's just that he's beating it with his superior route running, physicality and shiftiness.
Just ask Washington Redskins defensive back DeAngelo Hall, who famously got burned on HBO's Hard Knocks by the agile receiver's quick cuts in joint practice during training camp (Warning: Video contains strong language):
And his 10-inch hands, which allow him to do things like this...
...certainly don't hurt either (and the recovery on No. 26 was particularly nice).
All of those things worked together to contribute to Pro Football Focus declaring him the most sure-handed receiver in the league following last season's performance.
It's impressive and important for any pass-catcher, true, but considering the quarterback instability of Hopkins' career, even now with signal-callers Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett swapping in and out, it's all the more astounding.
Hoyer, despite a solid outing last Sunday, ranks No. 20 league-wide in completion percentage, going 83-of-130 for 63.4 percent, while Mallett ranks dead last with a 53.1 completion percentage on 147 pass attempts, via ESPN.com.
Quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo, based on their statistics prior to suffering injuries, rank first and second, respectively, in the same category. They also happen to be the starting signal-callers for Antonio Brown and Dez Bryant who also ranked in the top two, even in the same corresponding order.
It's no coincidence that better quarterback play leads to superior receiving performances, but even with unenviable passers (yes, plural), the Texans' No. 10 has excelled—possibly the greatest testament to his blue-chip skills.
Naturally, Texans head coach Bill O'Brien has positive things to say. In a tweet by Texans TV host Drew Dougherty, he conveys the sentiment that every NFL coach, analyst and fan is or should be thinking:
How long until everyone does?
Perhaps when Hopkins eclipses the 1,000-yard mark (which, at his current pace, shouldn't be much longer). Maybe not until he breaks 1,500 yards. He may even continue to be overlooked until he's knocking on the door of Megatron's single-season receiving record of 1,964 yards.
Then there's the Texans' record to contend with. Does Hopkins' credit kick in once (or if) the team climbs back above .500?
The debate about his elite status is only just beginning, and it will prevail (if his success continues) for the remainder of his career. There's no arguing with facts, however. Hopkins entered this season stepping into the shadow of a future Hall of Fame receiver, but it's done nothing to diminish his shine.
Thus far in 2015, no other offensive player has been more dominant, breaking out for humongous yardage totals every week and making all the tricky, sticky-fingered grabs.
The scariest part? He doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon.