“I feel like we’ve earned that title to be the team to beat in the AFC South. When I got here (2013), it was the Colts (2013, 2014). We finally (got) over that hump,” he said Saturday, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
The division has belonged to the Texans and the Indianapolis Colts for the past five years:
|AFC South Winner: 2011-15|
One important distinction in the back-and-forth battle between the two squads is the return of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck this upcoming season. He played in only seven games in 2015 because of kidney and abdominal injuries, which opened the door for Hopkins and the 9-7 Texans to win the division by one game over the 8-8 Colts.
Luck played in all 16 contests in each of the previous three seasons and was arguably the best quarterback in the league in 2014 with 4,761 passing yards and an NFL-best 40 touchdown throws.
After taking advantage of his absence in 2015, the Texans will have to deal with him in 2016, but they will also have their own upgrade under center this year. Hopkins finished with 111 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns last year—which were all career highs—despite the fact that Houston played with five quarterbacks. He will get the chance to catch passes from Brock Osweiler in 2016.
Hopkins talked about Houston’s addition, per McClain: "It's very pleasing to work with a guy that's demanding and a leader like he is. Demanding of your best, for you to be perfect, almost. I talked to some guys at Denver, and they said he was the same way even when he wasn't playing. Now that he's a full-time guy, I'm anxious to see what happens.”
Osweiler appeared in eight games for the Denver Broncos last year and threw for 1,967 yards and 10 touchdowns. He helped keep the team afloat when Peyton Manning was out (foot, ribs), but the future Hall of Famer took over in Week 17 and led the Broncos to the Super Bowl title (with help from a loaded defense).
Osweiler isn’t the only new face Hopkins is growing accustomed to in Houston.
The Texans brought wide receivers coach Sean Ryan aboard from the New York Giants, and Hopkins likes what he has seen thus far, per McClain.
“Coach Ryan is a great guy," Hopkins said. "He's coached some Super Bowl receivers with the Giants. He definitely knows what he's talking about. He's doing a good job of getting the rookies ready. He's doing a great job of handling the rookies and us (veterans), too.”
Osweiler and Ryan will have plenty of talented playmakers to work with in 2016 beyond Hopkins. Youngsters Braxton Miller, Will Fuller and Jaelen Strong will line up alongside the No. 1 option, which will ideally open up a passing attack that finished 18th in the league last year.
Hopkins was already envisioning the improvements when the Texans drafted Miller and Fuller:
Hopkins facing single coverage is a scary thought for opposing secondaries, and a more dynamic passing attack starring the elite receiver, Osweiler and a supporting cast of young pass-catchers should help the Texans counteract the return of Luck in the AFC South race.