After looking at Desmond Trufant and Justin Hunter, today's prospect in The Sports Central NFL Draft Series is Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins is one of the most exciting prospects in the draft and some consider him to be the safest selection also.
Even with the re-signing of Julian Edelman and the continuing saga surrounding Emmanuel Sanders, the Patriots will still be in the market for an additional wide receiver presence on the outside. So there is no need to change approach at this point.
Name: DeAndre Hopkins
Date of Birth: June 6, 1992
Height: 6'1 Weight: 214
Hopkins is a physical specimen of a rare kind. His body is built more like a running-back than a wide receiver, and some of that strength transitions to his play, but he still carries outstanding agility and body control. At the beginning of every play, Hopkins shows off his physical traits, but more importantly he also shows of his intelligence.
This first play shows off Hopkins' upper-body strength at the line of scrimmage.
The cornerback over Hopkins is lined up in press coverage, while Hopkins is the receiver on the line of scrimmage to the outside. That means that the defender is in perfect position to jam Hopkins and disrupt the timing of his route. As the blue circle between their feet shows, there is no space for Hopkins to advance into in order to begin his route.
Furthermore, the defensive back has immediately struck Hopkins in the shoulder with a clean shot that knocks him onto his heels.
Hopkins is too late to knock the arm away before it lands on his shoulder, but his upper body strength is such that the blow barely affects him. Because he is not knocked off balance, Hopkins is already landing a blow to the defender's inside shoulder to try and respond in kind.
In the same movement, Hopkins has knocked the defender backwards and shifted his weight inside to break into his route.
From press coverage, Hopkins has created enough space to run his desired route even after initially allowing the defensive back to hit him at the line. The blue circle that had been so tight initially, was now growing as the defensive back looked to accelerate back infield, while Watkins was already creating more separation by breaking inside.
Hopkins' intelligence and athleticism translates from his release into his routes also. His moves are so subtle that often it is difficult to recognize them, but more often than not he understands how to manipulate coverage and uses those subtle moves to create space for himself. He runs a varied route tree and works the middle of the field well whether against zone or man coverage.
Many receivers run routes as well as Hopkins, but very few of those receivers have the physical traits that allow him to make big plays routinely.
On this play, Hopkins is split wide right and the defense drops into deep thirds. The defensive back in his immediate vicinity has given him a five yard cushion immediately from the snap and carried it to the first down marker. After seven or eight yards, Hopkins sells the curl route.
Even though he has planted his left foot and sold the curl with a strong head fake, Hopkins feet are still parallel to the sideline and his momentum hasn't broken. That slight, but convincing move has caused the defensive back to fully commit to coming forward to the point that his weight has shifted onto his right foot and his left foot has lifted off the ground.
Not only had Hopkins come level with the defender before he had recovered, he was already pushing past him and opening an advantage running down the sideline. Without his precise and convincing route, the defensive back would never have overcommited and created the space behind him for Hopkins to run into.
By the time Hopkins catches the football, after slowing slightly to locate and adjust for the reception, there is already clear daylight between him and both defensive backs whose primary responsibilities were to prevent the deep ball.
This play is what Matt Waldman calls a "Boiler Room" play. A "Boiler Room" play is a single play that gives a snapshot of a player's whole skill-set.
Hopkins has already turned the defensive back around with a precise route, but the ball is late and underthrown from Tahj Boyd. Hopkins initially sat down at the end of his route just past the first down marker for what should have been an easy conversion.
However, once his quarterback releases the ball, Hopkins immediately recognizes that it is underthrown and works back to the football. The yellow circle is where his original route ended, while the blue line is how far he extended it to work back to the football.
Even once Hopkins gets back in position to make a play on the ball, he still has to extend his arms to reach the ball before the defender can knock it free. Had he waited for the ball to arrive into his chest, the defensive back would already have knocked it out of bounds.
Hopkins could have made the reception easier on himself if he ran through the football, however if he had done that then the defensive back would have immediately tackled him short of the first down marker.
Instead, Hopkins uses his extended arms to guide the ball into his chest and quickly shifts his feet to allow him to spin upfield. As he is spinning, the defensive back's momentum pushes him onto the ground while Hopkins is tight-roping his way down the sideline for a first down and bigger gain.
Hopkins was routinely used on screens at Clemson and often punished defenses as the hot read against the blitz. Being built like a running-back is one thing, but Hopkins also runs like one at times. His 4.57 40 time may sound slow, but his agility and acceleration allows him to escape defensive backs in space on the field.
Many receivers in this class will make plays in the open field, but Hopkins' most notable attribute is his quick decision making and awareness of his surroundings. He naturally adjusts to the football in the air, which allows him to survey the field even as the ball is arriving to him. The 05:12 mark of this video is a good example, and here are two breakdowns of his ability in space.
Hopkins is lined up at the bottom of the screen. The defensive back lined up over him moves inside at the snap of the ball and blitzes the quarterback.
The blitz is immediately recognized by both Hopkins and Boyd, and the latter zips the ball out to him in space.
Boyd throws a perfect pass to Hopkins. It arrives at a good velocity and arrives at a perfect chest height for his receiver to attack it. Most receivers would take a step infield before catching the pass to make the angles easier and make the reception easier.
Instead, Hopkins spreads his feet wide apart and continues to slide away from his quarterback towards the sideline. Defenders love to get ball-carriers by the sideline because it takes away space. Once Hopkins slides outside, the defensive back arrives aggressively to try and push him closer to the sideline and tackle him.
Because Hopkins catches the ball with his hands extended before his left foot has planted in the ground, he has the perfect body shape to push his weight back inside. Hopkins was obviously aware of the incoming defender, but chose to attempt the tougher reception that would allow him to get behind the incoming defensive back. It is somewhat a risky decision, but a good decision for a talented playmaker such as this receiver.
Hopkins is able to slide past the incoming defensive back with ease because of his decision to snatch the ball with his hands and slide towards the sideline.
His decision leads to a first down and 14 yard gain on first and 10. The safe play would have put him in a position that was unlikely to earn more than three yards without a monumental effort.
Going over the middle, Hopkins is also willing to be a playmaker. With safeties not in position to knock him out, Hopkins extends fully and leaves his feet at the right hash-mark. At this stage, the play appears set to go for a first down and 15 or 16 yards. However, Hopkins feet haven't landed yet...
Incredibly, as he lands, Hopkins completely flips his momentum and pushes backwards with both of his feet together. His lower body strength and technique(keeping his feet together to concentrate his weight) allows him to pivot on the spot while the incoming safeties are moving towards the spot they expected him to arrive at.
After exploding through his pivot without losing his balance, Hopkins breaks a tackle with a strong stiff-arm that uses the defender's momentum against him.
In an incredible fluid move from start to finish, Hopkins then accelerates down the right side of the field for an additional 30 yards before being pushed out of bounds.
-Catch In Traffic
Typically, receivers with issues catching in traffic have that problem over the middle. Alligator arms and fear become an issue when extending over the middle. Hopkins doesn't have that problem, but he does need to become more consistent catching the ball against tight coverage.
On this play, Hopkins has gained good position on the defensive back. The ball arrives in a perfect spot for him to make the first down reception and Hopkins has got his hands on the ball.
Immediately after the ball is in Hopkins' hands, the defensive back grabs his arm between his elbow and his bicep. In full-speed, it appears that the defensive back has made an excellent play on the ball. From a different angle, it's clear that Hopkins needed to be stronger to withstand the hit of the defender.
Of course, that was not the case as the ball popped out as quickly as it had arrived.
Hopkins made plenty of plays down the field with defenders in his vicinity and against tight coverage underneath, but he will need to erase the mistakes in his game that will face more scrutiny on the next level.
Hopkins played his last season in college at just 20 years of age. His build suggests that he can continue to bulk up into the early stages of his professional career, while he should benefit greatly from continuing to develop his footwork and learn from NFL coaches. Depending on where he lands, Hopkins could contribute a lot immediately or benefit from spending more time developing in a bit-part role. He is not limited to anything.
He has all the physical traits to play on the interior or edge on the next level. He also was used at times by Clemson as a passer on end-arounds. Depending on what coaching staff he lands with, he could become a multi-faceted chess piece on offense.
He doesn't have the deep speed that the Patriots' offense is currently craving, but he more than makes up for that with his incredible ability to create space with his route running. Hopkins gives off the impression of a very intelligent all-around football player. Bill Belichick typically loves those types.
Hopkins' style on the field immediately screams Anquan Boldin. Boldin in recent years has slowed after a career of punishment, but when he was younger he had the same ability to make game-changing plays down the field or over the middle.