Why DeAndre Hopkins Won’t Repeat 2015

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Hey settle down people… You can assume I’m either trying to woo you with some high-intensity click bait, or fire you up as much as possible to defend your DeAndre Hopkins love, as you quickly pull out your Texans footie pajamas and Membership Card in the “Nukdabomb” Fan Club.

Look, you won’t find anyone who’s more a Nuk fantasy fanatic than me. I’ve acquired him the last two years in redraft leagues early in both years before he sky-rocketed in value. Heck, I even jokingly pestered my wife to name our recently newborn son “DeAndre” for the entire 2015 NFL season. (“He’s a league winner! C’mon, honey, this guy is literally the bomb! His name is Nuk!”)

However, I want to offer a counter weight opinion to a guy currently being drafted at 1.06 in PPR leagues as the fourth WR off the board. I recently participated in a draft where someone took him first overall ahead of Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr., who are the consensus top three options at WR. Listen, Nuk is a bad man on the field and I loved having him on my team the last couple of years, especially in situations where I desperately needed some monster performances. His leaping ability is second to none in terms of his body control as he makes the spectacular look almost routine, as he snatches the ball at the height of its peak. His highlight reel tape for 2015 is one for the ages.

But I had to remove the emotions out of this decision (as star-crossed as I am for my boy Nuk) and review Hopkins’ 2015 season objectively and see if we can get some clarity moving forward to project where we think he will be in 2016 ,and whether he is returning the same value he’s presently being drafted at by owners. And as you will see, slight regression and falling off a cliff is very different terminology in the world of fantasy football…

For other WR rankings and projections, check out the Fantasy Footballers’ rankings section or get the Ultimate Draft Kit for Premium Rankings with Tiers.

2015 Review

You already know what an absolute animal Nuk was last year as the lone vertical passing threat for the Texans, despite being thrown the ball from an all-star cast of Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Mallett, and T.J. Yates. Yikes! Yet he caught 111 balls for 1,521 yards and 11 TDs. He was the definition of a target monster seeing 192, good enough to tie for fifth ALL-TIME in targets for a season with Brandon Marshall’s 2013 campaign with the Bears. Nuk’s talent demanded that he was fed the ball early and often highlighted by a Week 4 garbage time game against Atlanta in which he drew 22(!) targets including an unreal 7 targets inside the red zone. Hopkins, in fact, saw double-digit targets in all but three of his games, a three-week stretch of Weeks 12-14 when the Texans won with stingy defense. His TDs also rose to a robust total of 11, good enough for sixth in the league and almost doubling his previous career best.

Owners were especially giddy as Hopkins’ ADP was 28.7, as many people grabbed him in the middle of the 3rd Round in 2015. He outperformed the likes of Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Calvin Johnson, Randall Cobb, AJ Green, Brandin Cooks, T.Y. Hilton, Jordan Matthews, and Alshon Jeffrey, all of whom were being drafted ahead of the Texans’ WR in PPR drafts. Heck, I even found that in standard leagues he was being drafted as the 14th overall WR, or also known as one spot ahead of Davante Adams aka Mr. PoopSandwich Himself.

So what gives selecting one of the best WRs in the game as a prime candidate for regression? The team definitely looks much different from last year’s squad adding QB Brock Osweiler, RB Lamar Miller, and drafting WR Will Fuller in the 1st Round. In fact, their offense resembles something much more like a traditional NFL offense as opposed to a “throw it up to Nuk and hope our defense scores”-type of team.

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But instead of falling on simple crutch arguments by mere conjecture and leaning solely on a few free-agent acquisitions and an unproven rookie, let’s dive into a couple of reasons why Nuk’s slight expected regression seems forthcoming.

Hopkins’ Career Numbers & 2016 Projections

Hopkins’ ascension to a WR1 pantheon seems to be a lock. You won’t find any hot takes here claiming Hopkins will be a bust for any fantasy team. And yet as I look at his yearly stats I think it’s safe to say his career arc might not reach any further heights. He has improved in every seemingly possible category since being drafted at the end of the first round (27th overall) out of Clemson in 2013.

[lptw_table id=”22069″ style=”default”]

One of the things that stands out the most from these numbers is that the Texans jumped from throwing the third fewest pass attempts per game (30.31) in 2014 to ninth overall in the league at 38.69 attempts per game, by far the largest season-to-season change in terms of offensive philosophy in the league. As you can see, Hopkins was one of the main beneficiaries as the rest of the Texans WR core was a rag-tag crew made up of Nate Washington, Cecil Shorts, and Keith Mumphery, who together drew a total of target share percentage of 33.12%. In other words, Texans QBs threw to Hopkins as often as the next three WRs combined on his team.

Overall, his target share percentage of 31.02% lagged only behind Antonio Brown (32.71%) and Julio Jones (32.69%) as the preeminent target share monsters in the league. There is a clear red flag for regression in the amount of targets Nuk received. As mentioned, 192 targets is tied for the fifth-most targets in a single-season EVER by a WR in the last 15 years of fantasy sports (that’s as far as my data goes back).

2015 Red Zone Target Data

[lptw_table id=”22072″ style=”default”]

Among all red zone passes attempted by the Texans in 2015, Hopkins was thrown to 37.04% of the time, also the highest percentage in the league. And yet Hopkins had the third-lowest completion percentage among this elite group of red zone performers. Of his 14 targets in 2014, he caught a more efficient 57.14% of those balls and yet was more than doubled (29) by teammate Andre Johnson in terms of total targets. I expect Hopkins to return to this list in 2016, just not lead the league as the Texans should increase their red zone rushing attempts with Lamar Miller, after placing 29th as a team last year with mostly the underwhelming Alfred Blue toting the rock.

2016 Fantasy Projections

Furthermore, the health of the Texans’ RBs is another factor for me in projecting slight regression with Hopkins as well as the Texans fluctuating passing attack. In seasons that Arian Foster was relatively healthy (playing at least 13 games), the team passing attempts dropped to around 550 or below every year. Presuming newly acquired Lamar Miller stays healthy (which is all we can do because projecting injury is a dangerous game to play), and sees a workload even marginally below what Foster had, it’s clear that the pass attempts in Houston will definitely be trending down.

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I gave Hopkins the benefit of the doubt and did not drop his target share (30%) very much of the 570 projected pass attempts. And if you think 570 is too drastic of a drop, its roughly the same middle-of-the-road amount teams we think are pass heavy (like the Arizona Cardinals and the Green Bay Packers) achieved in 2015.

So how does this all translate to actual fantasy points?

[lptw_table id=”22075″ style=”default”]

Based on my projections, in which we are accounting for the Texans to throw less often, giving Hopkins roughly the exact same target share percentage, a higher catch rate, and a minuscule dip in his TD rate, it seems Hopkins comes out a bit lower than where he is currently being drafted. To give some context, these point totals (standard, 1/2 and full PPR) are not far off what Hopkins accomplished last year finishing as WR6 in standard and WR4 in both PPR formats.

And yet to return his current 1.06 value, he would need to improve upon last year’s gargantuan target total, score 10+ TDs, and return to his days with a yards per catch over 15. The Texans would have to throw the ball more (my reasons above state the opposite) and rely on the run even less (ditto) as Hopkins becomes an even more efficient wide receiver in terms of catch percentage. This is super hard to do with the volume of his targets and a QB in Brock Osweiler who has yet to prove himself as a season-long franchise QB.

Final Word

So I’m not arguing that Hopkins doesn’t have the talent to be able to make another quantum leap forward, but in terms of drafting, we’re shooting for target totals and overall numbers I can’t see him repeating with the cast of players around him in 2016. But yes, I still have Hopkins rated as a first round player and someone I consider a cornerstone of any fantasy team.

Check out this clip from Episode #215, Sleepers, Fantasy News, Mailbag, for Andy, Mike, and Jason’s take on DeAndre Hopkins’ upcoming season.

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[…] 2016, I wrote the EXACT same article about Nuk highlighting why he couldn’t repeat his 2015 campaign and was a prime candidate for […]

[…] leagues. Hopkins was being drafted at the 1.06 that year although some were clamoring him as a major regression candidate. There can be volatility for every single player especially when we consider all the different […]

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