An overly simple way that most describe the Texans’ situation is to say that they don’t have a quarterback. A slightly more accurate way to describe the same situation is that they don’t have a good quarterback. But an even more accurate way to describe the situation is that the Houston Texans do not have a quarterback capable of running their offense.
But is this the best way to describe the situation as it relates to DeAndre Hopkins’ fantasy production?
Houston’s coach is Bill O’Brien. For those unfamiliar, he is a former Patriots Offensive Coordinator that, naturally, implements a system many Patriots fans are accustomed to seeing. The difference lies in execution at the quarterback position. If it were an algebra class it would look like this:
Tom Brady > Brian Hoyer
Tom Brady > T.J. Yates
Tom Brady > Brock Osweiler
Tom Brady > Everyone
O’Brien’s offense places a lot of the execution on the quarterback's shoulders before the ball is snapped. It’s a tactical system that requires the quarterback to read the defense, call the appropriate play, and adjust coverage at the line of scrimmage as millions of fans hold their breath.
So for a quarterback to be successful in this offense, said quarterback needs to have a solid understanding of how to take what the defense is showing and call the right play. Tom Brady can do this, and he does it well.
Every Houston quarterback we’ve seen, so far, hasn’t been able to grasp it as well. For many, that is where the discussion on Hopkins’s fantasy production begins and ends. However, Hopkins has weaknesses as a receiver, mainly, he plays pretty stiff and he’s not too elusive. And surprisingly, his catching isn’t great either. If you look at his catch percentage for 2016 and 2015, he places 38th and 22nd respectively amongst all wide receivers with 100 targets or more.
But ask anyone who’s watched Hopkins in the era of YouTube highlights and Twitter and they’ll probably tell you there is no way that’s true, right.
After all, he can play well no matter who’s at quarterback!
In 2015, the hot take surrounding Hopkins great year was that he could put up big numbers regardless of who was throwing him the ball. Of course, that year Hopkins caught passes from four different quarterbacks that all had one thing in common: They weren’t that great. Thus, the whole confidence in the player over his situation narrative was born.
In 2016, that confidence waned as Brock Osweiler all but buried the narrative. Brock was the lone guy for most of the 2016 season, but Hopkins saw a drastic dip in production that left most fantasy footballers who drafted him in the first round asking one question.
So what is the narrative surrounding DeAndre Hopkins?
Hopkins has played in this league for four seasons, but he’s only received 100 targets or more in the past three.
2015: 111 REC, 1,521 YDS, 11 TDs
That’s a good ceiling. Apart from the season above he has one other 1,000-yard receiving year.
2014: 76 REC, 1,210 YDS, 6 TDs
This is where things get interesting. His 2014 stat line is pretty similar to his stat line from last season.
2016: 78 REC, 954 YDS, 4 TDs
One difference between these three seasons is that in 2015 the Texans did not have a bell cow running back. They had a committee that split carries and was far less effective as a whole than the likes of Arian Foster (2014) and Lamar Miller (2016).
As a result of not having an RB1 getting 260 plus carries, the Texans targeted Hopkins 192 times for 111 receptions, and they were some pretty amazing receptions. If you go look at the film, Hopkins was constantly contorting and bending to catch under and overthrown balls. He was using his amazing physicality to box out defenders and high point balls in the end zone.
In short, he was working his ass off. So there is some truth that Hopkins was great despite bad quarterback play, but he was fantasy great because he was being targeted the third most in the league behind only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones.
Another difference between these three seasons is that the Texans went into the 2014 and 2015 seasons with the third easiest projected schedules. This explains the slight drop in production despite similar reception totals between his 2014 and 2016 seasons because in 2016 the Texans strength of schedule was in the middle of the pack as far as toughness goes.
The only similarity between all three seasons, apart from Hopkins getting 100 targets in each of them, is that the Texans never had a true starting quarterback at any point, and they certainly didn’t have someone who could command Bill O’Brien’s offense.
Quarterback play will always be linked to a WR1’s numbers on some level, but DeAndre Hopkins’ numbers seem to be affected the most by the strength of schedule and the presence of a true RB1, getting at least 260 carries, on the roster.
So theoretically speaking Hopkins projections could look as such:
RB1 + Easy Schedule = 2014 Output (WR2)
RB1 + Hard Schedule = 2016 Output (Flex)
No RB1 + Easy Schedule = 2015 Output (WR1)
Adding a quality quarterback would obviously keep the Texans from having to rely on the run as much, and it would improve Hopkins odds for better stats. Adding some better weapons opposite Hopkins would be great too. But with the Texans looking to groom Deshaun Watson it might be sooner rather than later before he’s ready to command O’Brien’s offense, and Will Fuller is the number two wide receiver on their depth chart.
Looking specifically at this year, Hopkins’ season could go either way. The Texans first three games of the season are tough as they face off against the Jaguars, Bengals, and Patriots. However, overall, they face the 7th easiest projected schedule so there’s hope Hopkins can benefit from that. At this point, the Texans seem to be going with Tom Savage as the starter, and Lamar Miller is still set to have a huge role in this offense.
With all this in mind, I’m projecting that Hopkins’ 2017 stat line will look more like 2014 than his stat lines from 2015 and 2016. Let me know what you think Hopkins’ year could look like in the comments below.