Who are the best wide receivers in the NFL right now? The first names that come to mind for most of you are probably Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr, Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, maybe still Calvin Johnson.
Here’s a fun fact: while these five guys are all household names, they’re all playing second fiddle to DeAndre Hopkins right now.
But that’s the intriguing part of Hopkins and the season he’s had so far. He’s never been a superstar. Sammy Watkins was always the go-to guy when they were teammates at Clemson. Hopkins was a late first round draft pick back in 2013, and after being drafted by the Houston Texans he continued to be No. 2, now behind Andre Johnson.
Well, Johnson is gone, and now Hopkins is to the Texans offense what J.J. Watt is to their defense—a seemingly unstoppable force.
Hopkins is sitting on 52 receptions, 726 receiving yards, and five touchdowns over the course of the first six games of this season. That’s more than most starting receivers in this league will finish the season with. That’s also just the right pace for Hopkins to have the greatest season a wide receiver has ever had in the NFL.
Right now, Hopkins is set to finish with 138 catches for over 1,900 yards and about 13 touchdowns.
Only Hall of Famer Jerry Rice is even close to these numbers. Rice finished the 1995 campaign with 122 receptions, 1,848 yards, and 15 touchdowns, and there’s no one even close behind him. Of course, Calvin Johnson had that fantastic 2012 with 122 catches for a single-season record 1,964 yards through the air, but only five out of those 122 times did he find the end zone.
So what’s his secret? It can’t be easy to succeed on a team whose quarterback is whoever head coach Bill O’Brien deems the lesser of two evils that week between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett.
To answer the question, it’s a lot of hard work. I mean A LOT of hard work. Hopkins knows the ins-and-outs of five different positions in the Texans offensive scheme. Basically, the only position he would struggle at is center or maybe left tackle, but he would probably find some way to make that look easy too.
“To be able to line up at F, line up at Y, line up at Z, line up at X, that’s four positions to know,” said O’Brien. “Sometimes we put him in the backfield. To be able to know four or five positions, it’s very difficult. It’s not easy to do that, and it takes a lot of hard work, studying on your own and things like that. I think if we called any play in our offense right now, he would be able to tell what every receiving position has to do on that play. That’s a testament to him and the time he’s put in to learn our offense.”
It’s definitely hard to ignore the fact that Hopkins lines up all over the field on any given play. It’s a lot to learn, of course, but that results have been apparent.
“I put the hard work in the offseason,” said Hopkins. “So I expected to be where I am. Not a lot of people expected me to be in this position. I don’t blame them. All the work I put in the offseason.”
Are you starting to see a reoccurring theme here? Hopkins works. Hard. And a lot. And that’s why he’s easily one of the top five receivers in the game right now. Hell, if you factor in quarterback(s), you could make an argument that he’s top three.
Hopkins has never made a Pro Bowl, never was a first-team All-American, he wasn’t even on the NFL’s Top 100 Players List for 2015.
DeAndre Hopkins isn’t a household name. Yet.