The Allen Robinson of the Texans, Hopkins was the other peak-age receiver to experience a surprising and precipitous drop from 2015. In Hopkins' case it's more comprehensible -- the switch to quarterback Brock Osweiler was a major headwind, and unlike Robinson, Hopkins' 2015 numbers were mostly volume (192 targets) rather than efficiency (7.9 YPT) driven. Still, the depths to which Hopkins sunk (6.3 YPT, 37th) were surprising. On 151 targets, he managed only 10 catches of 20-plus yards. The Texans rarely used Hopkins in the red zone last year (only 11 looks, down from 29 in 2015.) At 6-1, 215 and with a 4.46 40 at his pro day, Hopkins has good size and speed, but is hardly a physical freak in the mode of Julio Jones or even Robinson. Hopkins makes his living on route running, quickness, ball skills and reliable hands. As such, he doesn't seem the type to transcend terrible QB play. Anyone the Texans put under center this season would be an upgrade from Osweiler's abhorrent play (5.8 YPA, 16 INT), but it might not be a big one. At press time, coach Bill O'Brien named untested Tom Savage the starter, and while DeShaun Watson will likely overtake him at some point, it's unwise to expect even league-average play from Watson as a rookie. On the bright side, Hopkins is still a good bet to be among the league leaders in targets.
Finally decoupled from Andre Johnson's decomposing carcass last season, Hopkins quickly established himself as one of the NFL's superstar receivers. While Hopkins' efficiency (13.7 YPC, 7.9 YPT) was pedestrian, he handled 193 targets from Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden. (The season before, with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Hopkins posted an elite 9.5 YPT and 15.9 YPC.) Nonetheless, massive volume toward a talent like Hopkins will pay the bills - he scored 11 times on a league-leading 29 red-zone targets, and he was third in yards and catches behind only Julio Jones and Antonio Brown. At 6-1, 207, Hopkins has decent size, and his sluggish 4.57 40 at the Combine isn't indicative of his game speed (he ran a 4.41 and 4.46 at his pro day.) Hopkins is also a strong route runner and has a 36-inch vertical leap, great ball skills, good quickness and sure hands. Hopkins is likely to shed a few targets to new arrivals, running back Lamar Miller and wide receiver Will Fuller, the 21st overall pick. But with Brock Osweiler replacing the substandard signal-callers with whom he had to work, expect Hopkins' efficiency to trend back toward 2014 levels. Fuller's ability to stretch the field should also help keep opposing safeties honest, pushing Hopkins' per-play output in a positive direction.
Year 2 is when receivers typically break out, and Hopkins did his part to reinforce that notion last season. Despite seeing 20 fewer targets than teammate Andre Johnson, Hopkins had 274 more yards and three more touchdowns than the likely Hall of Famer, thanks to robust 15.9 YPC (2nd) and 9.5 YPT (8th) averages. Johnson signed with the Colts this offseason, leaving Hopkins as the Texans' unquestioned No. 1 target. At 6-1, 207, Hopkins has decent size and makes up for a lack of elite speed (4.57 40) with route running, ball skills, quickness and athleticism. Of some concern is the unsettled quarterback situation — at press time it's a competition between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. But while Hoyer is a low-end option, Mallett is an unknown with possible upside, and in any event, Hopkins was paired with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick during last year's breakout. While Hopkins struck for more than his share of big plays last year — 20 catches of at least 20 yards (T-8th), six of 40-plus (T-4th) — he was rarely used in the red zone (only 13 targets, T-31st). Johnson, however, was tied for sixth in red-zone and inside-the-10 looks, and his departure should open scoring opportunities for Hopkins. The Texans did sign Cecil Shorts and Nate Washington and drafted 6-2, 217-pound Jaelen Strong in the third round to replace Johnson, but Shorts has struggled to stay healthy, Washington's a journeyman on the down side of his career and Strong is more likely to make only a modest impact as a rookie. Hopkins also underwent surgery on his right wrist in February, but should be healthy entering training camp.
Hopkins had an odd rookie year – he actually became less relevant as the season wore on. Usually, it’s the other way around, especially for a first-round pick. His disappearance coincided with Case Keenum taking over the starting job from Matt Schaub as Keenum locked in on Andre Johnson almost exclusively for eight games. Fortunately for Hopkins, the Texans brought in veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick who at press time is the favorite to start as the Texans did not draft a quarterback until the end of the fourth round. At 6-1, 207 and with good ball skills, quickness and athleticism, Hopkins is a downfield weapon even though his timed speed (4.57 40) was on the slow side. Even with the quarterback disaster in Houston last year, he averaged 8.8 YPT and 15.4 YPC. Things are looking up for Hopkins in Year 2. Run-first head coach Gary Kubiak is gone, and former Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien takes his place. Johnson also skipped team OTA’s and wondered aloud whether the Texans were the right fit for him. While it’s likely Johnson reports before too long, were he to be traded, Hopkins’ would see a big uptick in targets.
Of all the rookie receivers, it's possible Hopkins, the Texans' first-round pick, steps into the most ideal situation.
For starters, he's got an excellent chance to start opposite Andre Johnson from Week 1, as there isn't anyone with a track record or pedigree with whom to compete. Second, he's working with Matt Schaub, an above-average veteran quarterback near the peak of his game. Third, Johnson has been injury prone the last several seasons, so Hopkins could see at least a few games as the team's top target.
At 6-1, 200 and with excellent quickness, ball skills and eye-hand coordination, Hopkins is athletic and polished. He's not a pure burner, but he has the burst in short spaces to create separation and make plays down the field.
The biggest negative is the Texans' strong run-first tendency near the goal line – even the great Andre Johnson has never had a season with double-digit scores.