DeAndre Hopkins Is Ready to Become an Elite Wide Receiver in 2015
DeAndre Hopkins joined the Texans' offense as a first round pick in 2013 and immediately stepped into a starting spot. He contributed as a rookie to the tune of 52 receptions for 802 yards and 2 touchdowns on 91 targets. In 2014 his role expanded greatly. He was targeted 127 times, turning those into 76 receptions for 1,210 yards and 6 touchdowns.
His production according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which quantifies a player's production compared to league expectation level, saw similar improvements. In his rookie season, Hopkins recorded a Reception NEP of 58.05 and ranked 48th among wideouts with 50 or more targets on a per-target basis with 0.64. In 2014 his Reception NEP rose to 96.06, and he finished 26th among qualifying receivers with a Reception NEP per target of 0.76.
Hopkins benefited from being far more of a focal point in the Texans' offense during his sophomore campaign. He accounted for 26.5% of the team's targets, a significant jump from his 14.7% as a rookie. Another contributing factor in his improvement was markedly better quarterback play.
The Texans' quarterback situation in 2013 was flat-out awful. The two quarterbacks that split starts, with eight each, were Matt Schaub and Case Keenum. The pair combined to complete 58% of their 611 attempts for 4,070 yards, 19 touchdowns and 20 interceptions.
Their efficiency was among the worst in the league. Schaub recorded a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.09. Keenum's was -0.08. This put them 38th and 36th, respectively, among the 45 quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs on the year. With this duo at the helm, Houston finished 2013 as one of the worst passing offenses in the league, ranking 28th in schedule-adjusted Passing NEP per play with a mark of -0.07.
Enter Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Seeming destined to be forever under-appreciated, Fitzpatrick came into Houston and elevated their passing game from "abysmal" to "inoffensive." At the time of his benching after a Week 9 loss to the Eagles, the Texans' Adjusted Passing NEP per play sat at 0.02, good for 22nd in the NFL. After an injury-ravaged, disorganized mixture of Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Keenum, and rookie Tom Savage, that number fell to 0.01, and the ranking to 24th. Still a marked improvement over 2013.
Fitzpatrick proved himself, not for the first time in his career, serviceable. He posted a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.08, ranking 19th among quarterbacks with 100 or more drop backs in 2014. That surely didn't blow anyone away, but it was enough to allow the offense to function, and enough to fuel some of the improvement we saw in DeAndre Hopkins' numbers.
While Hoyer hasn't been as egregiously bad as Case Keenum over the last couple of years, he also hasn't been as efficient as Fitzpatrick was in Houston. Hoyer ranked 25th in Passing NEP per drop back in each of the last two years, with a mark of 0.03 in his three games in 2013 and of 0.04 in 2014.
Mallett is a bit of an unknown, but given the way things are shaping up, it looks like Houston's quarterback situation is unlikely to be worse than it was in 2013, though we shouldn't expect it to be much better than it was in 2014. With Hopkins putting up solid numbers as a rookie with terrible quarterback play and making huge strides with mediocre quarterback play, it's unlikely that the 2015 quarterback situation will stunt his development entirely.
In March, our own Joe Juan went in-depth with an excellent look at when elite wide receivers typically hit their primes. Joe found that typically the cream of the crop hit their peaks in their third season and at 26 years of age. Hopkins is entering his third season and only turns 23 in June. In terms of development as a player, we can expect Hopkins to again make big strides. With Andre Johnson out of town, let's look at how Hopkins' role could shape up next year.
The loss of Johnson leaves a huge void in the offense. He led the team with 146 targets, which was 30.5% of the Texans' total. Former Jaguar Cecil Shorts and rookie Jaelen Strong have been added in his place, though neither man comes close to bringing to the table what Johnson did. Because of this, Hopkins' role should expand in Johnson's absence, and it would be no surprise to see his target share approach the 30% mark in 2015.
One area of intrigue is Hopkins' touchdown potential. In 2014 no receiver accounted for as high a percentage of his teams' red zone targets as Andre Johnson did with 37%. These targets and his red zone ability are a big part of why Jaelen Strong is going to be very valuable in Houston, but Hopkins also stands to benefit.
Over his first two seasons, Hopkins' red zone efficiency has left a lot to be desired. On 23 career red zone targets, he's converted only three touchdowns. J.J. Watt has done that on three targets. If Hopkins can improve his efficiency there even a little bit, that combined with added opportunities will give him the potential to improve on his touchdown total once again.
Hopkins has already made huge strides as a pro. His quarterback situation isn't ideal, but it's not much worse than anything he's had to deal with in the past. Because of his continued progress towards his peak as a player is accompanied by becoming the focal point and because he is easily the most talented receiving option of the Texans' offense, the future is bright for Hopkins.
Hopkins finds himself facing a perfect storm that will allow him to rise the ranks into the elite among wide receivers.