Can DeAndre Hopkins Produce Despite Mediocre Quarterback Play?

We know Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett aren't very good, so how will that affect DeAndre Hopkins in 2015?

Poor DeAndre Hopkins.

Unlike every wide receiver being drafted in the top 15 at the position in fantasy football, his quarterback situation is a mess. Dez Bryant has Tony Romo, Calvin Johnson has Matthew Stafford, Antonio Brown has Big Ben, and the list goes on. Heck, Andy Dalton may get booed at celebrity softball games, but he is still a competent NFL quarterback for A.J. Green.

The same cannot be said for Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer, and the fact that neither has separated himself in the battle to start the season for the Texans cannot bode well for the playoff hopes of the franchise. But what does it mean for Hopkins' odds as a fantasy weapon? Can he really be one of the best players at his position with Brian Hoyer throwing him the ball?

Currently, Hopkins is being drafted as a top 15 receiver (14th at his position), which makes sense considering he finished 15th in scoring in 2014 and no longer lives in the shadow of Andre Johnson. But are the odds stacked against him in an offense clearly lacking stability (or arguably talent) at the quarterback position?

The Curious Case of Josh Gordon

Everyone is quick to point to Josh Gordon and the incredible 2013 season he had catching passes from amazing trifecta of Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Hoyer. Despite being suspended for the first two games, Gordon led all receivers in fantasy scoring, posting 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and 9 touchdowns on 159 targets. As a collective, the Browns passed for 4,372 yards, which ranked 11th in the NFL, and 26 touchdowns, which is probably a lot better than most realize or remember.

Gordon was an other-worldly talent on a team devoid of talent around him, and the team force fed him the ball and allowed him to carry their pass offense. That doesn't, of course, mean that they were a good passing team.

At numberFire, we use a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP) to measure how well a player or team performs versus expectation. The 2013 Browns posted a schedule-adjusted Passing NEP per play of -0.04. For context, consider that the Colts unbelievable 2004 offense and the Patriots record setting (and unbeaten) 2007 regular season offense both posted a 0.41.

A -0.04 isn't that great in comparison, but it also isn't as tragic as, say, the -0.15 put up by Blake Bortles and the 2014 Jaguars.

Last year, the Texans passed for 3,460 yards collectively with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and Mallett, which ranked 24th in the NFL. Andre Johnson finished the season with 85 receptions for 946 yards and 3 touchdowns on 146 targets. Hopkins caught 76 balls for 1,210 yards and 6 touchdowns on 127 targets. The Texans finished at 0.08 in Adjusted Passing NEP per play, appreciably better than the 2013 Browns, who made Josh Gordon look like the next Andre Johnson.

So can the combination of Hoyer and Mallett propel Hopkins to a top finish?

Number Crunching

Since 2011, there have been 14 wide receivers to post top-15 fantasy seasons while in bottom half pass offenses based on passing yards. The teams' Adjusted Passing NEP per play scores vary, so some players have done it in both below average offenses in terms of yardage and efficiency.

YearNamePos RankTeam RankAdj PNEP/P
2011Larry Fitzgerald517-0.04
 Percy Harvin828-0.09
 Vincent Jackson1016-0.07
 Brandon Marshall13230.00
 A.J. Green14200.05
2012Brandon Marshall229-0.03
 A.J. Green4170.00
 Michael Crabtree14230.18
2013Vincent Jackson1432-0.07
 Anquan Boldin15300.14
2014Dez Bryant4160.28
 Mike Evans1025-0.08
 DeAndre Hopkins15240.08

Percy Harvin is a bit of an aberration due to his high volume in the running game inflating his final numbers, but the numbers still indicate that a great receiver can still flourish in a deficient offense. And if Brian Hoyer wins the starting job in Houston, as many anticipate he will, people should remember that he was on pace to throw for 3,800 yards last year in Cleveland with his top receiver being Andrew Hawkins.

Now, I like Andrew Hawkins, but that's not the best way to set your quarterback up for success.

Optimism aside, a great passing offense definitely factored in to the ability of a player to finish in the top five at the position. On average, a top five fantasy receiver played in an offense that ranked 7.6 in the NFL in passing yards. The guys who bucked the trend are not just talented players -- they are dominant players. If the expectation is that Hopkins has top-five, or even top-10 potential, know that the assumption must also be that he is a dominant talent. At least if we viewing history as an indicator.

In 2014, Hoyer's Passing NEP per drop back was 0.04, which is plenty good enough historically to support a top receiver. Daunte Culpepper put the same number in 2002, with Randy Moss at the receiving end of 106 passes for 1,347 and 7 touchdowns. Cam Newton did the same thing in 2014, with Kelvin Benjamin the beneficiary, though Derek Anderson and Benjamin had a good rapport in Anderson's 101 drop backs, too.

Ryan Mallett hasn't done enough in the NFL to make a statistical assessment, but the assumption would be that if he plays, he's better than Hoyer. With that as a baseline, there is plenty of room for Hopkins to respond with a career year.

Final Thoughts

So is Hopkins worth being drafted as a top 15 receiver? In my opinion, absolutely. This is a talented, young player who is just starting to reach his potential as a player. His ceiling likely isn't as high as some of the player being drafted above him due to the lack of quarterbacking talent on the Texans' roster, but his return on investment should easily match his draft position. So while he may not be the dominant talent capable of producing a top-five season this year, the Texans will throw his way early and often and give him every opportunity to be their star player.

Entering just his third NFL season, the arrow is definitely pointing up for Hopkins. Plus, Andre Johnson's departure frees up 146 targets. Not all will be quality targets, but Hopkins certainly has the ability to capitalize on a bigger workload. This may not be the year he enters a top-10 discussion unless Ryan Mallett is a lot better than everyone thinks or he succeeds with Hoyer, but he is still capable of being a number-one target on fantasy teams.

In the end, the mediocrity of Mallett and Hoyer shouldn't detract owners from spending a high pick on Hopkins. He's going to be just fine in 2015. And hey, maybe he pulls a Josh Gordon and shows everyone how quarterback play is overrated. At least when it comes to putting up stats.