What Could Go Wrong? DeAndre Hopkins in 2020 (Fantasy Football)
The trade heard around the world. A star wideout gets traded to an up and coming team loaded with offensive talent hoping their QB would take a leap forward after showing promise the year before. No, I’m not talking about DeAndre Hopkins yet and I would be talking about Odell Beckham Jr if my friend Ryan Weisse hadn’t already stole it for his article about Tom Brady to the Buccaneers. I’m talking about Brandon Marshall being traded to the 2010 Miami Dolphins.
You probably remember Brandon Marshall as the guy that posted over 3,700 yards the three years following his rookie season in Denver. You might remember him as the guy Smoking Jay Cutler pelted with targets in Chicago. You might also remember the guy who put up an improbable career-best 14 TDs with Ryan Fitzpatrick with the Jets. You probably don’t remember him in Miami at all. He received over 140 targets in each of his two years in Miami, but all those targets yielded a disappointing 2,228 yards and nine TDs combined between 2010 and 2011.
These things happen. Sure we had Randy Moss post 23 TDs at age 30 in his first year with New England, but we also had Randy Moss struggle in Oakland as a 28-year old in what should have been the prime of his career. Moss and Marshall’s poor stretches with Miami and Oakland were hamstrung by poor QB play while Hopkins is on a team with a good young QB, but let’s not forget that he’s leaving a team with a great QB in Deshaun Watson that funneled targets to him.
What Could Go Wrong
DeAndre Hopkins has amassed an incredible number of targets throughout his career. He’s accumulated 150 targets or more each one of the last five years. His 830 targets over that time frame are the most in the NFL edging out Julio Jones‘ 807 targets. More impressive than the sheer number of targets is the target share.
|Year||Targets||Team Pass Attempts||Target Share|
These numbers are insane. Julio Jones has one season with a 30% target share or greater in the last five years(the year he had 203 targets-the fourth-most targets ever). Michael Thomas eclipsed a 30% target share for the first time last year on his way to setting the single-season reception record. It took historical seasons to get these receivers over a 30% market share and Hopkins has done it three times in the last five years. Hopkins is going to a good situation from an offensive standpoint, but we shouldn’t ignore that he played a greater role in the Houston offense than any other WR on any other team.
The Arizona Cardinals’ 69.8% of targets to the WR position led the league and their 369 WR targets as a team were the fifth-highest in the league. The concentration of targets to the WRs should be a good thing, but this was truly a spread offense:
Arizona even got Michael Crabtree into the mix! We don’t know exactly how the target distribution will change with DeAndre Hopkins involved, but the man is like a celestial body that creates his own target gravity. There’s little doubt Hopkins should be able to lead the team in targets, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to get the 150 or more targets we’re accustomed to. Fitzgerald and Kirk should combine for 200-225 targets again. Even if 90% of the remaining WR targets from last year go to Hopkins, we’re looking at 130-152. What if the available targets go up?
Game Script and Offensive Tendencies
Last year was close to a perfect storm for WR targets in Arizona. Arizona ran a pass play on 60.40% of their snaps – good for 12th-highest in the league. They also ran offensive plays at the fourth-fastest rate in the league. When they ran a pass play, they almost completely ignored their TEs who finished with the second-lowest targets and target share as a position group. The backfield situation was mostly an ineffective disaster until Kenyan Drake stepped in and even then, Drake was either boom or bust. Almost all of this was driven by the game script.
Arizona’s defense was nearly nonexistent. They finished last in yards against, pass completions against, First-Downs against, and passing TDs against. Their defense ended up on the field for 1080 plays, which was the second-most plays against. Not surprisingly, Arizona finished 31st in time-of-possession and 24th in game time while leading. This becomes interesting when looking at game-script splits.
While playing down by seven points or more, Arizona ran a pass play on 66% of their plays. They ran a pass play on 56% of their plays while playing in-game neutral scripts(up or down by 3 points), which was just below league average. Arizona’s pass-rate came down to 48% when up by three or more points, which was still below league average. This is a whole lot of numbers, but the takeaway is that this is a self-moderating system.
If game script improves(it can’t get much worse) because the offense or defense improves, we can expect more offensive plays, but time per play will increase and pass-rate will decrease resulting in a minimal effect on total targets.
The presence of DeAndre Hopkins will certainly influence Arizona’s play-calling. Where they were below average in pass-rate while leading or in neutral game scripts in 2019, they will probably(likely) pass more frequently in those situations with Hopkins on the field. Even still, we cannot forget they targeted their WRs at the highest clip in the league and they feature a mobile QB that racked up the third-most rushes among QBs. I’m having a hard time figuring out how Arizona creates many more targets for their WRs given how many factors went right for them to generate 369 targets last year. Without an injury to Christian Kirk or Larry Fitzgerald, it’s going to be tough for Hopkins to get 140 targets much less 150 or more.
Sometimes we get huge breakouts from young QBs like Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson. Those were more like BREAKOUTS!!! Sometimes we get Baker Mayfield. All things considered, Murray had a good rookie season. He managed a respectable season passing with the 15th highest QBR. Still, there were things that were less than encouraging.
Kyler Murray was sacked 48 times. The reflex is to blame the offensive line, but it wasn’t all on them. The line actually came in 10th in the league in pass-blocking win rate one spot ahead of Dallas while PFF assigned more sacks to Kyler Murray than any other QB in the league. Sacks are offensive killers. A drive with a sack is 18.2% more likely to end in a punt and 17.3% less likely to end in a TD. The critical mistakes didn’t end there. Murray threw 12 interceptions compared to 20 TDs with eight of those interceptions coming in the second half of the season. More damning as it relates to Hopkins was Murray’s passing totals.
Murray finished the year averaging 232.6 passing yards per game with six games under 200 yards passing. Those 232.6 passing yards per game were the second-lowest total among QBs that threw over 500 times (although well ahead of Mitchell Trubisky‘s 209.2). Speaking of Trubisky, Allen Robinson was the only WR to crack WR1 territory with a QB that averaged less than 250 passing yards per game and it still took 154 targets, a 26.6% target share and 35% of Chicago’s receiving TDs to get him there.
There were things working against Murray. Although Murray is tailor-made to run this kind of offense, expectations for a rookie adjusting to the NFL need to be tempered especially on a team with a rookie Head Coach. Christian Kirk missed time due to injury. David Johnson clearly wasn’t operating anywhere near 100%. Larry Fitzgerald still has some of the best hands in the league, but he’s a few years removed from being able to dominate a game. There’s certainly room for improvement especially when we’re talking about adding a Hall-of-Fame level WR to the offense, but what if this offense led by Murray continues to dink and dunk targets to their WRs? What if Murray’s rushing limits available targets? What if Murray continues to make drive-ending mistakes like taking sacks and throwing interceptions?
It might be time to start pulling back on Hopkins. The good news is, Hopkins should be able to get 130 or more targets without too much difficulty. The bad news is, Murray will have to take a pretty big step forward and/or target Hopkins at a historical rate for him to pay off at his ADP in the early second round of fantasy drafts. Interestingly, Andy, Jason, and Mike have a consensus rank of WR8 for Hopkins, which seems about right especially where Mike has him ranked WR15 (likely floor), and Andy has him WR5 (likely ceiling).