Time to start a new bandwagon. A DeAndre Hopkins shaped bandwagon.
Without any doubt at all, he’s a stud. Any doubts about this guy need to be firmly removed following an incredible solo-performance against mighty LSU yesterday. He’s a top-20 talent who may go later… and a smart team will be ready to capitalise.
LSU’s passing defense isn’t quite as sharp since losing Morris Claiborne and Patrick Peterson to the NFL (and Tyronn Mathieu to marijuana) but this was still a terrific performance from an underrated player. Give credit too to quarterback Tajh Boyd, who had to deal with a relentless pass rush and constant pressure. But there’s no doubting who the star of the show was.
Hopkins had 13 catches, 191 yards and two touchdowns. His first score was set up by a physical grab down the left sideline, competing against pass interference to turn and locate the ball before making a difficult catch (see the play here). The touchdown (click here) owed a lot to Boyd’s accuracy and velocity, fitting a pass into a tight window. But Hopkins made the catch look easy in traffic. Clutch completion.
The second score was another tough catch at the back of the end zone, made possible by a good route (click here). It’s the kind of effortless play Hopkins makes time and time again. He’s such a smooth, controlled route runner with the hands to match.
I’m going to post the full game tape on the blog soon, but here are the other characteristics he flashed on the night. He’s a pure hands catcher. For nearly every one of his 13 receptions he extended his arms and plucked the ball out of the air. He had one drop by my count – a high pass on a crossing route he had no real duty to complete. His reaction was poignant – sheer frustration at himself for not making the grab. It’s testament to his character and attitude, something I’ll come back to later.
Fortunately drops are not a concern. He smothered every other pass thrown his way – on one occasion leaping above a defensive back to make a completion with his finger tips. For all the great physical traits you find with other players – and you’ll hear pundits continually talk about size and speed when it comes to the wide out position – you just cannot beat a guy who catches everything thrown his way and makes game-winning plays. ‘Reliable’ is sometimes superior to ‘explosive’. When you’re driving for the win, a quarterback wants a guy he knows he can go to. It might be his third read on the play, but he always knows in the back of his man is going to be there. In the red zone? Where’s my guy. This is the type of player Hopkins will be at the next level.
We’ve talked about clutch plays, but there was no greater example of this than a 4th and 16 completion on the game’s final drive. He found just enough separation over the middle for Boyd to slip a pass in between two defenders – similar to his first touchdown. Hopkins makes the diving catch and holds onto the ball. That play essentially won Clemson the game, as shortly after they marched down field and scored the winning field goal as time expired. Drop the pass and LSU wins.
He’s not the biggest receiver at 6-1 and 200-205lbs. He’s also not among the fastest – I’d project a time in the 4.45-4.50 range at the combine. This is where the league is in danger of being fooled again.
Conventional wisdom says that’s not spectacular enough for a high pick. The five most productive receivers in the NFL this year statistically were Calvin Johnson (6-5, 236lbs), Andre Johnson (6-3, 230lbs), Brandon Marshall (6-4, 230lbs), Demaryius Thomas (6-3, 229lbs) and Vincent Jackson (6-5, 230lbs). Clearly size matters. The man ranked at #9 is Roddy White of Atlanta – listed at 6-0 and 211lbs. He’s become a clutch receiver for Matt Ryan – the original dynamic target prior to Julio Jones’ arrival. Hopkins compares favourably to White – who was drafted #27 overall in 2005. They’re likely make comparable forty times (White had a 4.47), they have similar size and range. However, Hopkins hasn’t shown any of the inconsistencies that dogged White’s early years in Atlanta before the light switched on.
The way you make up for a lack of size is playing above your stature. Be physical. Master your routes. Understand the offense. Find advantages elsewhere. When you listen to Hopkins conduct an interview, he’ll talk about (for example) exploiting a cover-2 and appears to be a student of the game. Despite the arrival of highly-recruited Sammy Watkins he never complained about a reduced work-load in 2011. Watkins left the LSU game after picking up an injury in Clemson’s first offensive series. That makes a 13-catch near-200 yard performance even more impressive against one of the best defensive teams in the SEC.
During the game ESPN’s sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards relayed a story about Hopkins being asked in high-school to make a list of targets for the year ahead. Apparently he’s continued this tradition throughout his career and has met every goal he set out to achieve. Supposedly his one remaining goal for the 2012 season is to become a first round pick in the NFL draft. It’s this kind of determination and focus that’ll have GM’s and coaches salivating when they sit down to speak with this guy. And doesn’t he just sound like a perfect compliment to a workaholic like Russell Wilson? You can almost imagine the pair working overtime throwing passes during the off-season. It’s a chemistry waiting to happen.
I appreciate the front office’s apparent penchant for size at the receiver position. There are a lot of jump-balls to be won in this offense. They coveted both Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson on the trade market and decided both moves were too expensive. Big Mike Williams was a feature in 2010 and 2011. Sidney Rice is 6-4. If they’re going to add another receiver, they may favour the size of a Cordarrelle Patterson or Brandon Coleman.
However, one of the reasons this team believed 5-11 Russell Wilson could be a starting NFL quarterback was due to the way he made up for a lack of size. His release point, hand size, throwing velocity, accuracy and mobility rendered it a moot point. Pete Carroll has talked about players needing to make up for a lack of elite physical qualities to warrant consideration. Hopkins answers the call with his hands, clutch playmaking ability, route running and intelligence on the field. And it’s not like 6-1 and a 4.45-4.50 forty yard dash is a major issue anyway. This team drafted a smaller receiver in Golden Tate who can still go up and make physical plays.
One thing I’ve learnt watching Russell Wilson in Seattle is to never underestimate a prospect who is determined to be great. Few players have that quality. Some are physically good enough to never require that aspect of their personality. Others are so driven, so zoned in on making themselves ‘great’. I get that impression from Hopkins.
Sources tell me tonight will be the final college game for DeAndre Hopkins/WR/Clemson as he will enter the draft….
— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) December 31, 2012
Now that we know he’s going to turn pro – and what a way to bow out of college – it’s time he warranted serious consideration as a first round pick. The likes of Keenan Allen and Justin Hunter continue to appear in multiple mock drafts carrying first round grades, while Hopkins is nowhere to be seen. I’d be very suspicious of any mock not giving this guy serious first round consideration – especially behind those two players. For the record, he ended the 2012 season with 1405 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. There’s going to be a lot of good receiving options in the late first round this year. Hopkins, Brandon Coleman, Cordarrelle Patterson, Markus Wheaton and others could all be available in that range. Stanford tight end Zach Ertz is another name to keep an eye on if he decides to turn pro. It’s perhaps another reason why the Seahawks would be better served addressing some of their pass-rushing issues in free agency to allow the front office to take advantage of the pass-catching talent available this year. Of course, there are other possible target positions in the first round. Tony Pauline confirmed today that Georgia’s brilliant linebacker Alec Ogletree will turn pro:
Have been told after much deliberation Alex Ogletree/LB/Georgia will enter the draft… — Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) January 1, 2013
Ogletree’s final snap for Georgia was a sack – a fitting end for one of the more explosive defensive prospects entering the league in the last few years. It’s also difficult to look too far beyond Kansas State’s Arthur Brown, who will contest the Fiesta Bowl against Oregon on Thursday. Both players appear to be good fits for the WILL position in Seattle’s 4-3 under scheme.
Even so, it’s time to get excited about DeAndre Hopkins. He could be a name many more people are talking about by the time April comes around.