Having the right tools to do a job can make all the difference in the world. I recently worked data entry for a company, and was given the most worthless Windows XP desktop known to mankind, with so little power that screensavers didn't even run at full speed.
This, understandably, made data entry pretty difficult. Despite understanding everything I needed to do, I couldn't do it quickly enough to meet the demands of my boss. If there was a data entry fantasy league, I'd have gone undrafted. But it wasn't my fault, and a quick change would prove why.
A switch to a newer, better computer, and my production doubled, like a waiver wire pickup who scores three times the week you snag him for your team. I knew what I was doing, I just needed to be in the right situation to flourish.
DeAndre Hopkins spent last season on the "Windows XP Desktop from Hell" of NFL offenses, as Matt Schaub threw touchdowns to opposing defensive backs, and Case Keenum struggled to do much better. Yet, he showed signs of being an above-average wide receiver in need of a better supporting cast. So with the changes this offseason in Houston, did he get the sort of upgrade he needed?
Let's start by considering what Hopkins brings to the table, and then see how his situation will dictate his performance in 2014.
A Capable Peripheral
Hopkins isn't going to be confused for Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green any time soon, but he is more than capable of providing Houston with the second option at receiver behind Andre Johnson that they've needed for the better part of the last decade.
His numbers last season weren't eye-popping, but compared to his fellow secondary option peers, he was definitely among the best. When considering receivers who were targeted between 75 and 100 times, Hopkins finished 11th in Reception Net Expected Points, and 12th on a per-target basis out of 26 players.
And considering the dumpster fire of an offense he was on, that's an impressive feat. He finished ahead of Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola, who had much better offensive situations than Hopkins, and finished just behind Roddy White, who spent his healthy snaps playing with one of the more efficient passing offenses in the league.
He did score only twice last season, but that is almost certainly a byproduct of his offense, and more specifically, his quarterbacks. Speaking of which...
Replacing the Motherboard
The Texans were in need of some new offensive components this offseason, and made an underrated addition by snagging Ryan Fitzpatrick to run their offense while they seek a long-term solution for the position. Just consider how Fitzpatrick did last season when compared to the Houston quarterbacks he's replacing.
|Player||Passing NEP||Passing NEP Rank||NEP/Drop Back|
Fitzpatrick's Passing NEP totals are miles ahead of Keenum and Schaub, whose poor performances actually led to a net loss in expected points thanks to their performance. The rankings are among a qualified group of 36 passers who dropped back to pass 250 times or more, meaning Fitzpatrick was above average, while the Texan quarterbacks were near the bottom of the league.
And on a per-drop back basis, Fitzpatrick had the same sort of positive impact on his offense as Keenum and Schaub did as a negative influence on the Houston passing attack. And considering the similar level of talent on both offenses, this says a lot about the leap in efficiency from the 2013 Houston quarterback situation to the 2014 edition.
This obviously benefits Hopkins in a major way, as his production is directly tied to the ability of his quarterback to get him the ball, and get his team in scoring position. His NEP production was already solid (but not great) in a bad offense with fewer scoring opportunities, and that leaves plenty of room for growth as he finds himself in the red zone more often and getting better looks from a better passer.
A Change in Systems?
There's some bad news for Hopkins, however, and it comes in the form of his new head coach Bill O'Brien. The former Patriots' play-caller has a long history of getting the ball in the hands of his tight ends more often than the average coach, to the tune of over 40% of targets to pass catchers heading in the direction of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez by the end of his time with New England.
Combine this with BOB's tendency to run the ball more often than the Texans did last season, and Hopkins could see a decline in volume in the future. Last year, Houston had the seventh-most pass-heavy offense in the NFL, calling 1.63 pass plays for every one run play. Compare this to the most pass-heavy season of O'Brien's Patriots, which ended in a pass to run ratio of 1.47-to-1, with his other seasons in charge coming in closer to 1 to 1.
So more passes will go to tight ends, and fewer passes will be thrown in general. Is it all doom and gloom for Hopkins' fantasy football hopes? Not exactly. O'Brien certainly has a track record of throwing to tight ends and running the ball more than the average team, but he didn't do that in New England until the right personnel was in place.
And with only Garrett Graham as a proven pass-catching tight end, the Texans are almost certain to feature their wide receivers this season, as Hopkins and Johnson are the strength of the passing offense. And the balance of targets between them should change, as well. Last season, Johnson was the second-most targeted player in the NFL, but with a year of experience for Hopkins and a better situation under center, there should be better balance to the Houston offense.
The question must be raised: Which change in Houston wins out and dictates Hopkins' value moving forward, the new offensive scheme or the better quarterback?
And the answer probably doesn't come in the black-and-white variety. The truth is that the Houston offense will be more balanced and efficient under Bill O'Brien, and that's a good thing if you're a Houston fan. But for fans of Hopkins or fantasy football players, it creates a tricky balancing act.
Will having a better quarterback improve the quality of the targets Hopkins sees in 2014? Absolutely. And it will likely lead to more touchdowns, as well. But the offense will be more balanced, meaning he's not likely to see any growth in opportunities despite being one year older and wiser.
So Hopkins' actual value to the Texans will improve, but his fantasy football relevance should stay the same. And when considering his WR51 finish last season and his WR46 ADP right now (according to Fantasy Football Calculator), I'd say he's right where he should be in the mind of fantasy owners. So do our projections.