It has been months since DeAndre Hopkins‘ shocking trade to the Arizona Cardinals, and many are wondering if the Houston Texans will be able to perform as well as they did in the 2019 season.
Hopkins, one of the top receivers in the league, was traded to the Cardinals for running back David Johnson. The Texans also received a handful of draft picks, none of them in the first round. This trade is widely seen as a huge misstep by Texans head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien.
O’Brien explained his decision to trade away Hopkins on April 16. According to him, the team “must be prepared to have layers upon layers of productive players who can build on the tradition…of winning the AFC South four out of the last five years and to try to get beyond that.”
Many NFL players have expressed their disapproval. In an Instagram comment, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuester described the deal as “crazy”. Former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Jarvis Jenkins called the trade “stupid” in his own Instagram comment.
However, a minority do believe that Hopkins’ departure will ultimately benefit the Texans.
End of the Hopkins-Watson Duo
It is safe to say that Hopkins has been responsible for a large amount of quarterback DeShaun Watson’s production.
Over thirty percent of Watson’s targets went to him and Hopkins consistently turned targets into meaningful production. In 2018, Hopkins had a catch rate of 71 percent and had only dropped one of 234 targets from Watson. With numbers like these, it is almost inevitable for Watson’s production to drop without Hopkins.
In an interview on Carmelo Anthony’s What’s In Your Glass?, Watson expressed his pain about the Hopkins trade. “I definitely was hurt when we let Hop go. That’s my brother. That’s my dog.”
DeAndre Hopkins himself believes that his exit from Houston will hurt his fellow Clemson alum. Back in May, Hopkins said on Jalen & Jacoby that “obviously [Watson’s] best target is a guy [he] can depend on, not being there for him — I’m pretty sure that would impact any quarterback’s game.”
Although we will not know if Hopkins’ statement is true until the season begins, he does believe that Watson has the ability to improve the players around him.
In the same interview, Hopkins said “if he’s able to make players better, and I’m sure that that’s what he’s going to do, he’s going to rally his team up to help them win.”
Some see the trade as a great opportunity for Watson to improve his skills. Watson is already one of the elite quarterbacks in the league, but this season is a new opportunity for him to upgrade. NFL analyst Chris Simms believes that “Hopkins was a great thing early on in [Watson’s] career”, but Hopkins’ presence “hindered Watson’s ability to look at the whole field, read the whole play, [and] look at other receivers.”
Wide Receiver Woes
While the Texans still have productive wide receivers in players like Will Fuller and Kenny Stills, Hopkins’ absence will be strongly felt. Will Fuller is an extremely effective player, but his injuries make him unpredictable.
Last season, Fuller injured a hamstring in the Week 12 game against the Colts and missed three games. He also missed the last regular-season game against the Titans and the playoff game against the Bills. In total, the former Notre Dame powerhouse has played 36 out of a possible 64 games in his career.
Despite Fuller’s injuries last season, Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly described conversations with Fuller as “encouraging” in May. Currently, Fuller is listed as the Texans’ starting wide receiver.
It seems other receivers are also beginning to step up. The Houston Chronicle reported back in June that Watson has been working out with Randall Cobb, Brandin Cooks and KeKe Coutee during the pandemic.
Hopkins’ absence will definitely be felt in Houston, but the Texans still have a solid core of receivers to work with. Much of the season will hinge on the receivers’ abilities to improve their game to make up for the loss of Hopkins’. It is possible for the Texans to need an “adjustment period” to get acclimated without Hopkins, but it is going to be an interesting season for them nonetheless.
Featured image courtesy of Sports Illustrated.
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