NFL

Is Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins the Next Larry Fitzgerald?

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Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has had a storied NFL career that crescendoed in 2009, when he led the fledgling Cardinals franchise to a Super Bowl, along with becoming the Pro Bowl MVP a week later.

Fitzgerald was never the fastest guy on the field or ran the most precise routes, but his ability to use his body and his run after the catch ability has made him an explosive threat and a future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

There’s always one thing missing when you think about Fitzgerald.  A “what-if.”

What if Fitzgerald had more time with Kurt Warner, or even played with any other functional quarterback?

He has enjoyed the last season and a half with Carson Palmer, but the prime of his career was spent trying to catch passes from the likes of Matt Leinart, Josh McCown, John Skelton, Kevin Kolb and Drew Stanton, among others.

We have another explosive wide receiver that’s simply being held back by the quarterback position in Houston, and his name is DeAndre Hopkins.

Many questioned the selection of “Nuk” Hopkins in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft as he was somewhat raw, didn’t have exemplary size (only 6-foot-1, 214 pounds), and ran a 4.57 40-yard dash.  Those aren’t numbers that would equate to an elite receiver.

Despite playing with three quarterbacks in his first three seasons, each of which would be considered mediocre at best, Hopkins is ascending toward the elite at the loaded wide receiver position.

“It’s fun.  He’s very talented and wants to do his best,” current Texans starting quarterback Brian Hoyer said of throwing to Nuk.  “When you have a guy like that that wants the football in crunch time and has the ability to go out and do it, it’s fun to have him on your team.”

Hopkins is on a torrid pace this season.  He already has 52 receptions, for 726 yards and five touchdowns in just six games.  He’s also on pace to set a new NFL record for targets (240).

Despite the success he’s had personally along with the lack of team success, Hopkins doesn’t get too high or too low.

“I’m a level-headed player,” he said. “I don’t really get too emotional to any game because I feel like that would take me out of it. So big moments, my teammates trust me, they come to me, and it’s what I do being a football player.”

Nuk is clearly the Texans best offensive option and head coaches and defensive coordinators around the league know that if they’re going to slow down the Houston offense they have to devise a plan to take him out of the game.

It’s easier said than done, as Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley found out in Week 6, as Hopkins went off for 10 catches, for 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

“Yeah we put House on him in quite a bit of those situations,” Bradley explained. “We just felt like he was doing a good job playing man coverage for us in some of the zones. We wanted to play tighter coverage on him and challenge him. I thought he did a pretty good job. I don’t know how many receptions he had. He was challenging and won his catches too. We had a couple of penalties and that one when he caught the touchdown on, give him credit, he’s a great receiver.”

An opposing coach thinks his cornerback did a “pretty good job” after giving up 10, and 148, and two.  That tells you all you need to know about how good the Texans No. 1 receiver is.

Hopkins has a physical style of play, along with his dreadlocks which make anyone who watches him immediately make the Larry Fitzgerald comparison.

“That’s natural to me, I feel like. I played defense in high school. When the ball is in the air I feel like it’s mine. No matter who it is or the situation, I feel like I have to come down with the ball or at least knock it away. I’m always trying to get a hand on the ball, and I have a pretty good vertical. I’m able to get the ball at the high point,” Nuk explained.

Although the book isn’t quite finished on Fitzgerald’s career, one can only wonder about how great he could have been with functionality, and at the very least cohesion at the quarterback position.

Since Hopkins arrived in Houston in 2013, he’s played with Matt Schaub (in his worst season), Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage and now Brian Hoyer.

You can see where this is going.

Although Hoyer played well in that Jacksonville game (against a 1-5 team), he doesn’t possess elite skills at the quarterback position and he doesn’t figure to keep the job for any lengthy period of time, as he found himself benched after just three quarters in the season opener.

“He’s a leader on and off the field,” Hopkins said when asked about Hoyer.  “It didn’t surprise me to see him come out the way that he did.  He’s talking to us about things that we need to do.  His leadership is something that doesn’t surprise anybody in this locker room.”

Leadership is great, but actual skill will take the Texans offense to the next level.  It’s likely that the team will try to address their quarterback insufficiencies in the draft, but that will once again set Hopkins and the Texans back as they go through the growing pains of another young signal caller.

While Houston tries to figure it out, Nuk will continue to line up on the outside, make spectacular plays and put up great fantasy stats.

It’s everyone’s hope that the prime of his career won’t be wasted on terrible quarterback play like Fitzgerald’s was.

 


About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.