We talked recently about how underrated Markus Wheaton is. For me, he’s the second coming of Mike Wallace. If you want a consistent receiver with the right attitude, explosive speed and a knack of making key players – Wheaton’s your man. And if I was a good team looking for a receiver in the late first round, I’d draft him and feel pretty smug about it afterwards.
Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins is another player who deserves similar attention. I’m surprised the media and other bloggers are still concentrating on Keenan Allen and Justin Hunter. I wrote a longer piece on why I don’t rate Allen that highly and in my last mock draft I left him out of the first two rounds. He has to run well at the combine because he hasn’t shown a lot of explosion on tape. And I don’t expect him to run well at the combine. Hunter looks the part, but just didn’t really convince this year within a productive passing offense. He allowed Cordarrelle Patterson to steal away some of his stock – and I’m not sure he started the year 100% recovered from a serious knee injury.
Hopkins is slightly bigger than Wheaton (6-1, 200lbs) but he has similar qualities. He’s incredibly smooth running routes and has excellent body control. He’s consistent and a reliable target. He’s not quite as fast running in a straight line, but there’s plenty of speed coming out of those breaks and he’s capable of making plays downfield. Despite the presence of Sammy Watkins on the Clemson roster (although Watkins was suspended to start the year), it’s Hopkins who’s really grown into the #1 receiver for his team.
This season he registered 1214 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He’ll come up against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on New Years Eve and I’d recommend keeping an eye on that one. Despite only being listed at 6-0, somehow Hopkins appears bigger on the screen. If you want evidence of his big play ability, check out this long touchdown against Florida State, this downfield play where he just runs away from the Duke defense, this turn and run against Georgia Tech or his touchdown and two point conversion from the same game (just in case you were wondering if he can throw it as well as Sidney Rice or Golden Tate).
Alternatively, check out the video at the top of the piece showing every snap from Clemson’s game against Auburn from week one of the college season. He consistently flashes an ability to identify the soft zone, create separation and find space. And while speed and size is ideal for a big-time receiver, nothing is more important than simply being able to get open.
The Seahawks need to add at least one more viable target for Russell Wilson this off-season. Sidney Rice has stayed healthy this year, but he’s had issues there in the past. Right now, this team is a Rice-injury away from being really thin at receiver. Braylon Edwards is gone. Ben Obomanu is on injured reserve. Do you really want to be leaning on Jermaine Kearse in the playoffs? What’s more, it just makes absolute sense to make life easy for your young quarterback. And that means not asking him to throw to low-level receivers and create miracles. Russell Wilson needs as many good receiver targets as possible, which is why wide out and tight end have to remain a priority despite the recent upturn in production for the passing game.
Whether this team goes receiver or not in the first round next year remains to be seen. We’re a million miles away from knowing how likely that’s going to be. Even so, it has to be a target area. I’m not sure if the NFL will rate DeAndre Hopkins and Markus Wheaton as first round talents. I’m not sure if they’ll even get second round grades. They don’t tick a lot of the ‘conventional wisdom’ boxes. But if they’re on the board with either of Seattle’s first two picks next April, they’d be a great way to keep boosting this offense. If Brandon Coleman doesn’t declare for the 2013 draft, then in my view Wheaton and Hopkins are the two best receivers in this class.