As the old saying goes, “the grass is greener on the other side,” but does that hold true in the world of fantasy football? Is the grass greener for DeAndre Hopkins’ fantasy value? Every year we see players move to new teams through trades or free agency. The moves bring new teammates, new coaches, and new schemes. All of these things affect a player’s opportunities and outlook. In this series, we will examine how a player’s fantasy outlook is affected by the move and whether the grass is truly greener on the other side. Engage with 1,600+ passionate dynasty players and let the RotoHeat content team know what topics YOU want to hear about by visiting our RotoHeat Facebook page.
DeAndre Hopkins Fantasy Value as an Arizona Cardinal
In what must be the worst trade of the off-season, Bill O’Brien traded DeAndre Hopkins and the 131st overall pick in 2020 to Arizona for David Johnson, the 40th overall pick in 2020, and a 2021 4th round pick. In the weeks that followed, a fractured relationship between the two was revealed. The personal reasons for the trade came to light, but the football reasons are much less easy to see.
Clearly a top 5 WR in the league, Hopkins found himself surrounded by a lack of talent in the WR room. Despite defenses keying in on him, DeAndre constantly dominated games and was the focal point of the offense in Houston. Even with a rocky relationship between O’Brien and Hopkins, Nuk’s play never suffered. With his move to Arizona, Hopkins hopes to remain a juggernaut in the passing game. Arizona head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, has spoken very highly of Hopkins and the incredible level of play of his game. Finding himself on a new team in the arid desert of Arizona, one must ask the question: will the grass be greener for DeAndre Hopkins fantasy value as an Arizona Cardinal?
Coaching and Scheme
Hopkins and Bill O’Brien’s relationship soured sometime in the last few years. There was not one incident, but several that led to the animosity amongst the two men. There are however two incidents that stood out amongst the rest. O’Brien had a problem with Hopkins’ personal life, particularly that DeAndre had kids with multiple different women, and O’Brien made comments to that effect to others. DeAndre took issue with comments O’Brien made during a meeting between the two where O’Brien compared the situation with Nuk to what he dealt with in New England with Aaron Hernandez. After the trade, Hopkins stated that him and Bill did not have any relationship in the 6 years they worked together in Houston.
Under his guidance, Houston employs the Earhardt-Perkins offense. While the Texans do use many spread looks to stretch defenses, they remain truer to the original version than the Patriots. This could be due to a lack of WR talent outside of Hopkins. The offensive attack of the Texans has consistently been one of the heavier run offenses in the league during O’Brien’s tenure. The 2016 season is the only time as head coach that the offense ranked outside of the top 10 in run percentage; it ranked 11th that year. O’Brien prefers to play a ball control offense with short to intermediate passes. Despite a run heavy offense, Hopkins consistently produced because of a lack of receiving talent around him.
In his rookie season, Hopkins was targeted 91 times and 127 times in his sophomore campaign. Since then, Nuk has never been targeted less than 150 times in a season. 2019 is his third lowest target total of his career coming in at 150 targets. That type of volume and consistency is matched by only a few other receivers in the league, all of whom are elite. In 2019, Hopkins had a 28.7% target share. The Texans throw less than most teams, but when they did, Nuk was the man to bet on being targeted.
Kliff Kingsbury was the coach of Texas Tech in college before making his jump to the NFL. Having led the Red Raiders to a 35 – 40 record in his 6 seasons as head coach, it was a surprise to some that Kingsbury was brought in. What Kliff brought with him was a high-powered offensive game and a deep personal knowledge of the quarterback position, having been a record setting QB at Texas Tech, himself. The players on the Cardinals have lauded his teaching ability and many refer to him as a “player’s coach”.
The Arizona Cardinals use an Air Raid scheme that was made popular in the college ranks and that could affect DeAndre Hopkins’ fantasy value. The scheme utilizes 4 and 5 WR sets and is run almost exclusively out of the shotgun set. The offense is predicated on a mobile QB, elusive pass-catching RBs, and WRs who can stretch the field. The offense is designed to be up-tempo and put a lot of pressure on the defense vertically while opening underneath passing options and running lanes. The run-pass option is utilized in this scheme, as well as swing and screen passes to punish defenses that drop their DB’s deep frequently.
Looking to the offense ran by Texas Tech in 2018 and the 2019 Cardinals offense, we can glean some clues about 2020. With a year of comfort and knowledge under their belts, we can expect Arizona to up the offensive tempo. Ranking 25th in total offensive plays last season with 950, that number is sure to increase. In his last season as head coach for the Red Raiders, Kingsbury’s offense ranked 3rd in the nation for offensive snaps. A high volume of targets for the RBs should continue as a staple of the offense. 2019 saw the RBs combine for the 3rd highest target total on the team behind Fitzgerald and Kirk. Texas Tech targeted the RB 75 times in Kliff’s final season as head coach–1 of only 10 teams in the nation to do so in 2018.
The offense was able to support many weapons, but there was no clear go-to option in the passing game. Two players and the RB group on the 2019 Cardinals were targeted over 100 times. In this trio, there was a 5 target separation between the highest and lowest targeted. This makes it hard on defenses as they are unable to hobble the offense by shutting down a single player. On the other hand, this does not bode well for a player who has commanded the lion’s share of targets during his career.
2019 Passing statistics (16 GP) – 542 ATT, 349 CMP, 64.4 CMP%, 3,722 YDS, 20 TD, and 12 INT
2019 Rushing statistics (16 GP) – 93 ATT, 544 YDS, 4 TD
Kingsbury immediately brought in his guy at QB, Kyler Murray, with the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. This gave him someone to focus his offense around. With Murray being a rookie and learning to adjust to the NFL, there were ups and downs in the 2019 season.
The first 8 games of 2019 saw Kyler throw for 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. The volume was there, but the big plays were missing. Murray’s second half of the season saw him throw 13 touchdowns, but with that came 8 interceptions. The increased TD output was good to see, but this was accompanied by a proportional increase in INTs.
Despite utilizing his RBs quite often in the passing game, Murray’s 3.8% check down rate was the 4th lowest in the league last year. The hope is Kyler will learn when to take risks and when to take what the opposing defense is giving him. After a year of development, many predict big things from Murray and DeAndre Hopkins fantasy value. His arm talent and athleticism are unquestioned. Improved decision making is a focal point
2019 Passing statistics (15 GP) – 495 ATT, 333 CMP, 67.3 CMP%, 26 TD, 12 INT
2019 Rushing statistics (15 GP) – 82 ATT, 413 YDS, 7 TD
Watson has been a great dual threat QB his entire career. His ability to make plays through the air and on the ground has been a boon for the Texans offense. The versatility of his game has been utilized to continued effectiveness in the Earhardt-Perkins offense. Watson is great at not forcing things, but can also hold on to the ball too long.
Watson had the 7th highest check down rate in the league last year at 8.9%. Amongst all QBs, Watson held on to the ball the longest on average before checking down. His ability to scramble allows him to keep plays alive. The downside is that Watson gets sacked a lot. In the 2019 regular season, Watson was sacked 44 times. In the 2 playoff games for Houston in 2019, Watson was sacked another 11 times. The willingness to hold on to the ball longer than most other QBs is a double-edged sword for Deshaun.
During his career, Watson has developed a great connection with Hopkins. In their 3 years playing together, Nuk has averaged 162 TGTS, 105 REC, 1,372 YDS, and 10 TD. However last year, Hopkins had his worst year during his time playing with Watson, finishing as WR5 in PPR and WR10 in standard scoring formats, respectively. It is easy to see DeAndre has been a dominant receiver when paired with Deshaun.
The running backs of the Cardinals were heavily involved in the passing game despite Kyler’s low check down rate last year. The trio of David Johnson, Kenyan Drake, and Chase Edmonds was targeted a total of 103 times in 2019. Johnson saw 45 targets, Drake was targeted 37 times, and Edmonds was also targeted 21 times. Utilizing RBs in the passing game is a staple of the Air Raid offense and is something that will be seen this year as well. The inclusion of designed throws to the RB are sure to draw away some of the looks that Hopkins benefited from in Houston.
Duke Johnson led the Texans RBs with 44 receptions for 410 yds. Carlos Hyde caught 10 balls and Taiwan Jones added 1 catch. The RBs in Houston are not a large contributing force in the passing game totaling only 55 receptions as a unit. Despite having one of the higher check down rates in the league, Watson does not look for RBs, preferring to use them as a last resort. This tendency and the lack of schemed pass plays to RBs helped to steer targets to DeAndre.
Hopkins will share the WR room in Arizona with an all-time great receiver, albeit one who is past his prime, Larry Fitzgerald. He will also be playing alongside Christian Kirk, a 3rd year WR who operated as 1B to Fitzgerald’s 1A WR role last year for the Cardinals. The Air Raid offense for the Cardinals in 2019 saw Larry Fitzgerald edge out Christian Kirk for the lead in targets 109 to 107, respectively. There are also a handful of young WRs fighting for their spots in the pecking order.
It is easy to assert that Hopkins will find himself playing with the most talented WR he’s ever played with during his career. In his 16-year career, Fitzgerald has never had a season with under 100 targets. Despite his advancing age, Larry is still a very capable WR and it is hard to believe there will be a huge falloff in his performance.
It is possible that Christian Kirk is the 2nd most talented WR that Nuk has ever played with. Kirk built on a strong rookie season by posting 68 REC, 709 YDS, and 3 TD on 107 TGTS. The 3rd year WR will look to build on his established connection with Murray this year. Even with the addition of Hopkins, the duo should be expected to put up strong seasons in 2020.
During his time in Houston, Hopkins played with a lackluster cast of WRs. In 2019, the Texans other WR options were Will Fuller V, Kenny Stills, and Keke Coutee. Fuller is talented, but has yet to play a full 16 game season in his career. Stills, a new addition in 2019, played in 13 games and showed flashes of ability. Coutee only played in 9 games and seemed to end up in O’Brien’s doghouse for one reason or another. Regardless of reasons, no other player on the Texans was targeted even half as many times as Hopkins. Fuller finished 2nd on the team with 71 targets.
The incredible gap in talent and ability is something that is not often seen for an extended period on NFL rosters. Despite the incredible statistical disparity between Hopkins and the next best WR on the Texans, this was par for the course during his career there. Hopkins will be the best WR on Arizona, but will likely never again experience a gap in ability akin to what was normal in Houston.
In the Air Raid offense Tight Ends are used minimally. This was reflected in the stats of the Cardinals TEs last year. The TE unit of Arizona had 56 targets resulting in 40 receptions in 2019. The leading TE was Charles Clay with 18 receptions, and Maxx Williams followed closely behind with 15 receptions. The use of 4 and 5 WR sets inside the offense means that TEs get very few opportunities and provide little competition for targets.
Houston’s use of 12 personal for its base set results in their being 2 TEs on the field often. Darren Fells was 6th on the team with 34 receptions, but tied Hopkins for TDs with 7 in 2019. Jordan Aikins finished 4th on the team for receptions with 36 last year. While not incredible numbers, it does point to the importance of the TE position in the Texans offense. The duo produced 103 TGTS, 70 REC, 759 YDS, and 10 TD. With the focus on the run game, TEs will be a factor in all aspects of the Texans game.
The offensive line of the Texans saw big improvements in 2019. The addition of Laremy Tunsil solidified the left tackle position. Promising RT Tytus Howard, a 2019 1st round pick, should return this season from an MCL tear. This will provide the Texans with strong outside lineman. Max Scharping is a 2019 2nd round pick. His play early on was shaky, but steadied as the season wore on. Nick Marin signed an extension in 2019 to remain as the starting center for the Texans. Right Guard Zach Fulton proved to be a strong blocker in the passing game in 2019.
The unit graded extremely well in pass blocking according to PFF, being the only unit in the league with all starters grading above a 70. ESPN gave the Houston line a 62% pass block win rate, which is the rate at which lineman can sustain their blocks for 2.5 seconds or longer, ranking them 8th in the league. The high amount of pressures and 42 sacks allowed are indicators of room for improvement. Deshaun’s tendency to hold on to the ball a long time and desire to extend broken plays are also a big factor in these statistics. With the entire starting unit returning in 2020, improvement is expected.
In 2019 Arizona’s line was below average when looking at blocking as a whole but were much better when pass blocking is the focal point. PFF ranked the unit as the 9th best in pass blocking in 2019 while ESPN ranked the unit 10th in pass blocking win rate. The Cardinals were much improved in 2019, and a lot of that had to do with the health of the line, being one of only 3 teams in the league to have 4 offensive linemen on the field for 1,000+ snaps.
Arizona returns starters D. J. Humphries (left tackle), Justin Pugh (left guard), J.R, Sweezy (right guard) and Justin Murray (right tackle). Murray is the only returning starter without a clear path to a starting role in 2020. Mason Cole will also return to the starting lineup at Center after playing behind A.Q. Shipley in 2019. New addition Josh Jones, selected in the 3rd round this year, will compete with Marcus Gilbert and Justin Murray for the starting right tackle position. PFF’s Steve Palozzo wrote, “Jones is a 1st round caliber prospect who fell to the 3rd despite posting the highest grade among tackles in the draft class at 93.4 overall.”
While the line is hoping to continue improving, Kyler Murray is also hoping to improve his play to reduce some of the burden on the offensive line in 2020. 23 of Murray’s league high 48 sacks last year were considered his responsibility according to Sports Illustrated. Murray tightened up his decision making in the final 3 weeks of 2019 and was only sacked 2 times during that stretch. With improved play from Murray and continued strong play from the line in 2020 the Cardinals could see their Air Raid offense soar.
Verdict: Is the Grass Greener for DeAndre Hopkins Fantasy Value?
The connection between Hopkins and Watson for the last 3 years has been one of the most proficient in the league. Despite a run first offense, the lack of other competent receiving options, and his incredible talent have allowed Nuk to excel. The situation will be very different in Arizona. So, is the grass greener for DeAndre Hopkins’ fantasy value?
While moving to a pass centric offense, DeAndre will be surrounded by capable receivers both along the line of scrimmage and coming out of the backfield. The progression of Murray and the comfort of the offense should lead to more plays and output for the Arizona offense in 2020. Despite the expected advancements, it is hard to see where Hopkins will find the targets he is used to.
A slight drop off in targets to the RBs and Fitzgerald should free up in the neighborhood of 40 targets. Damiere Byrd moving on also frees up 32 targets from 2019. Another 60 throws on the year from Murray is well within the realm of possibility. Even with these all going to Hopkins, we are looking at him coming in at around 130 targets on the year, 20 short of last years total. It is hard to imagine a scenario where DeAndre finds the number of targets he has grown accustomed to. It is also commonplace for WRs to see slight regressions in their stat lines when changing teams.
Hopkins is far from a common WR, as he is amongst the most dominant in the league. I expect DeAndre to have another great year. A connection for the next few years will be developed between Murray and Hopkins this year. With all that said, in the world of fantasy football, Nuk is used to wide open pastures with very little company. The expected oasis of Glendale, Arizona will reveal itself to be a mirage. They say everything is bigger in Texas. This saying will hold true in regards to Hopkins’ fantasy performance, and DeAndre will find the grass was greener back in Houston.
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