DeAndre Hopkins Making His Case as the Most Underrated WR Superstar in the NFL

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 16, 2018

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 15:  Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Houston Texans makes a catch to score the game-winning touchdown against cornerback Morris Claiborne #21 of the New York Jets during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on December 15, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Houston Texans won 29-22.  (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)
Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Antonio Brown spends more time on national television than any other elite receiver in the NFL. Odell Beckham Jr. plays in America's largest media market. Julio Jones is almost unarguably the best player on his team. 

According to the NFLPA, all three of those star wide receivers ranked in the top 25 in leaguewide jersey sales this past offseason.

Also in the top 40: NFL receptions leader Adam Thielen, Alshon Jeffery of the reigning Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, Julian Edelman of the super-high-profile New England Patriots and Stefon Diggs of Minnesota Miracle fame.

Not listed in the top 50: DeAndre Hopkins

The 26-year-old Houston Texans wideout doesn't get as much national attention as guys like Brown and Beckham, and he doesn't have the top Q rating on a team that also contains future Hall of Fame defender J.J. Watt and sensational sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson. 

But in a national spotlight and in Beckham's massive media market Saturday, Hopkins reminded the football world he belongs in every debate regarding top NFL receivers—right there with Brown, Beckham, Jones, Thielen, Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill. 

The sixth-year Clemson product has performed well all season, but he was special in Saturday's 29-22 road victory over the New York Jets, saving a team that may have overlooked a weak opponent with 10 catches on 11 targets, a season-high 170 yards and two marvelous touchdowns. 

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 15:  Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Houston Texans is tackled by cornerback Morris Claiborne #21 of the New York Jets during the second half at MetLife Stadium on December 15, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. T
Mark Brown/Getty Images

It was Hopkins' league-leading third 150-yard performance of 2018, and it came on a day his teammates didn't have their A-game.

Watson took six sacks, Texans running backs combined for 21 yards on 13 carries following the early loss of Lamar Miller to an ankle injury, and the defense often made Sam Darnold look like Joe Namath in a game the Jets were leading before Hopkins put Houston ahead with a clutch touchdown with 2:15 remaining. 

He helped account for 59 percent of Houston's offense and scored the team's only two touchdowns.

It was an important reminder that the man has performed at a Hall of Fame-caliber pace in an awesome, underappreciated career. 

Hopkins leads the AFC in receiving yardage, and he's above 10 touchdowns for the third time in the last four years. He's caught a league-high 24 touchdown passes since the start of his 2017 first-team All-Pro campaign. And he ranks second in that category, behind Brown, dating back to 2015, despite the fact that the Texans have lacked stability at quarterback for the majority of that stretch. 

And it's only not that he scores; it's the way he scores. Fifteen of his 39 touchdowns since 2015 have come on 25-plus-yard passing plays, including this ball-tracking beauty in the second quarter Saturday: 

It's also how he scores. Or how he catches the ball. As analyst Nate Burleson noted during NFL Network's game broadcast, "50/50 balls" are "80/20 balls" for Hopkins, who's made a career out of receptions like these: 

And it's when he scores. Sixteen of his 39 touchdowns since 2015 have come in the fourth quarter, while eight have come on third down. 

Hopkins is an accumulator, too. He now has four 1,200-yard seasons, three double-digit-touchdown seasons and will almost certainly catch six more passes to secure his second career 100-reception campaign. And he doesn't turn 27 until June. 

His peers see it—they voted Hopkins as the NFL's third-best receiver and 13th-best all-around player in the offseason. And the media sees it—he is, after all, a reigning All-Pro. 

And now, as Watson gives the Texans the strong quarterback play they were often missing during the first half-decade of Hopkins' careernot to mention the big-game spotlight they often didn't receive from the networks—fans look as though they're more broadly willing to give the 2013 first-round pick his due (just check out some of the feedback here). 

The is the first time Hopkins has been part of a team with double-digit wins. And with a steady quarterback, his reception rate has skyrocketed from 56.2 percent between 2013 and 2017 to 69.6 percent in 2018. 

Hopkins is the league's most underrated receiver. But the way he and the Texans are playing, it might not be long before we can remove the word "underrated" from that title. 

             

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.   

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