DeAndre Hopkins' Second-Year Breakout Places Him in Elite Company

Houston fans were likely ticked off when the Colts went from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck, but they have a similar scenario at wide receiver to frustrate Colts fans.

If you're a fan of any AFC South team other than the Indianapolis Colts, it must have been incredibly frustrating to watch the Colts stumble and fall into a perfect replacement for Peyton Manning by having their worst season in a long time right before Andrew Luck declared for the draft. The transition from Manning to Luck is right up there with Montana to Young or Favre to Rodgers in terms of sustained top-flight quarterback play across two different players.

But if you're a Texans fan, you can take a bit of pride in the fact that your team has found it's heir apparent to legendary receiver Andre Johnson. After years of trying to find a suitable secondary option to supplement the incredible Miami product at the other wideout spot, the Texans finally picked the right guy, selecting Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins in the 2013 draft. And as Johnson's career slowly fades to a close, Hopkins is picking his game up to keep the wide receiver play in Houston at an elite level.

Just how good has Hopkins been this season? Let's take a look at the numbers.

Making the Leap

During his rookie season, DeAndre Hopkins played alongside two of the worst quarterbacks in the league, and the team's passing offense finished third-worst in the NFL according to our data. Matt Schaub and Case Keenum both finished the season with negative Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back averages, coughing up nearly 10% of an expected point every time they dropped back to pass.

This season's change under center has brought notable improvement to the passing game, as the Texans are now in the middle of the pack through the air, according to our data, and starter-turned-backup-turned-starter Ryan Fitzpatrick has a significantly better per-drop back average than either of the 2013 passers for Houston.

But Hopkins' leap from Year 1 to Year 2 is more impressive than any other change on the Houston offense, as the Clemson product has improved his per-target NEP production by 0.3, meaning that the average throw toward Hopkins is around one-third more productive than it was a year ago.

Here are Hopkins' numbers from his first two seasons, which provide a nice comparison due to the similar target numbers.

YearReceptionsReception NEPNEP/RECTargetsNEP/TargetSuccess Rate

Hopkins' per-reception and per-target production and efficiency have spiked, and his Success Rate has moved up a bit, as well. Success Rate measures how often a player's receptions end in a positive NEP value for the offense, which indicates slightly improved consistency along with improved overall production for the second-year wideout.

This surge from the young receiver comes at the right time, as Andre Johnson appears to be slowing down at the tail end of his career. Johnson has been heavily targeted this season (maybe a bit too often), and his per-reception and per-target averages are at all-time lows.

But Hopkins is ready to put the offense on his back. His current pace would lead to season-long statistics that rival or top anything Johnson has done in his career. Hopkins' NEP per reception average is better than any of Johnson's through his NFL lifespan, and his overall NEP production would be better than any of Johnson's first five years in the league, and would rival his 2013 production.

No Sophomore Slump

There are countless articles out there that will tell you which seasons for different receivers are the ideal situations for breakouts or letdowns. People often try to bundle together positions and determine what level of experience often produces the best average result, but there are better ways of assessing a player's development based on age.

Player Profiler uses Breakout Age to evaluate the progress of receivers during their college careers, and according to their data, Hopkins' breakout as an 18-year-old is elite among receivers. He stepped onto the field for Clemson and dominated right away, meaning his quick success in the NFL shouldn't come as a surprise.

Hopkins isn't the best athlete to ever play the wide receiver position, with an athleticism score in the 68th percentile (according to Player Profiler), but his proven production in college revealed a player who got the most out of the athleticism he had. That's likely why he's one of the most impressive second-year receivers in recent history in the NFL.

Since 2000, 72 receivers have caught 50 or more passes in their second seasons in the league, and despite not finishing his second season just yet, Hopkins is already approaching the top 20 in yards among those players. He ranks sixth in yards per game and 10th in yards per reception among that same group.

Our data loves him just as much when compared to other second-year breakout stars. Here's a look at how Hopkins stacks up with every wideout with 50 or more catches in his second season over the past two years.

YearNameReceptionsRec NEPTargetsRec NEP/TargetSuccess Rate
2013Marvin Jones5181.65801.0292.16%
2014DeAndre Hopkins6084.53900.9488.33%
2013Josh Gordon87138.641590.8788.51%
2013Michael Floyd6696.411130.8596.97%
2013Alshon Jeffery89117.411490.7985.39%
2013Rod Streater6073.82990.7590.00%
2013T.Y. Hilton8389.171390.6480.72%
2013Kendall Wright9480.091390.5879.79%
2014Keenan Allen7256.091100.5183.33%

Marvin Jones' big play breakout last year is the only thing keeping Hopkins from the top of the per-target data in the chart above, while Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery's crazy volume as receivers keep them in the lead for top Reception NEP honors. But Hopkins goes toe-to-toe with Jeffery, Gordon, Hilton and company in every metric, and bests them all in per-target efficiency.

Hopkins has more yards per game in his second season in the league than A.J. Green, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall did in their sophomore campaigns, and his NEP metrics stack up, as well. Here's Hopkins' current pace statistics for this season compared with those elite receivers second seasons.

Full NameReceptionsRec NEPTargetsRec NEP/TargetSuccess Rate
Calvin Johnson78109.341510.7288.46%
A.J. Green97109.841640.6785.57%
Brandon Marshall102118.051700.6989.22%
DeAndre Hopkins80112.711200.9488.33%

Those numbers speak for themselves. Hopkins is playing at an elite level at the moment, and only has one hurdle between himself and a career as a top-tier receiver in the NFL.

Hopkins has to prove that he can continue to play at this level without Johnson on the other side of the field. If he can do that, his production has been among the best for a second-year receiver in recent memory, and that bodes well for a very productive career for the Houston wideout.