DeAndre Hopkins is the best wide receiver the Arizona Cardinals have, and that is an indisputable fact. He’s arguably the best wideout in the NFL, and the Houston Texans inexplicably gave him away for two marbles and a shoelace. In 2020, the offense lived and, unfortunately, died on the back of Hopkins’ talent. A generational ability became a crutch that the opposition tried to sweep away all too often, and Arizona burned out. The Cardinals are now a long way from 2020. They’ve bolstered their receiving corps and are spreading the wealth to stunning effect. On this ascendency to the summit of the NFL, Hopkins’ role in the offense may have changed. To some, it has diminished, with all the new faces thriving so far. Yet, in the past few weeks, Hopkins has reestablished himself as ‘that’ dude in Arizona. Not that it was ever in doubt.
DeAndre Hopkins Has Reestablished Himself for the Arizona Cardinals
Through the first six weeks, Hopkins sits atop Arizona’s receiving ranks. He leads the team in touchdowns and receiving yards and has the joint-most catches. Yet, these stats don’t illustrate the reality of Hopkins’ season so far. After Week 3, Hopkins sat a lackluster fourth in receiving yards on the team, with Christian Kirk, A.J. Green, and even rookie Rondale Moore ahead of him. He might be back where he belongs now, but between Weeks 2-4, Hopkins was not the brightest star in Arizona’s offense.
Now, Hopkins wasn’t at all bad in these three games. However, the game against the Minnesota Vikings was indicative of Hopkins’ trajectory over the coming weeks. Against the Vikings, Kyler Murray targeted Hopkins early and often, and he notched 54 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. Yet he didn’t touch the ball again in the game. The Cardinals get what they can out of Hopkins early, hitting their best target until opposing defenses blanket him with extra coverage. Hopkins has been effective in most games for Arizona this season, but his stats indicate a more consistent production than is truthful for the Cardinals wideout.
The NFL’s Best Decoy
Hopkins’ production slows because, as expected, opposition defenses take him out of the game. He gets extra attention, a hovering safety always helping out whichever stricken soul ends up guarding him. Yet, as Hopkins’ numbers have stalled, Arizona’s offense has rolled on. They’ve scored 30 points in all but one game and are averaging over 400 yards of total offense per contest. A far cry from 2020, Murray has explored the range of his receiving arsenal in 2021, and what was once an underwhelming supporting cast now has the talent to carry the load. Kirk, in particular, has been a favorite target for his quarterback this season. He shares the lead in receptions with Hopkins, trailing close behind in receiving yards. When Hopkins contributed a paltry 21 yards against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Kirk and Green both went over 100 yards, demonstrating this offense’s ability to retain its potency.
The shared production amongst Arizona’s receivers is thanks, in part, to the reverence of Hopkins. Hopkins attracts extra coverage, subsequently drawing it away from other players. Kirk’s excellence against single defenders, once drawing a league-leading PFF grade of 93.0, is testament to how Hopkins has afforded favorable matchups for his teammates. Deploying Hopkins as somewhat of a decoy is admittedly a flagrant misuse of his talent. Yet, with Arizona’s supporting cast thriving off his very presence, the Cardinals have the luxury of patience with their star receiver.
Hopkins Has Reestablished Himself
With the soaring trajectory of Arizona’s receivers, Hopkins’ resurgence was inevitable. Just as Hopkins once drew coverages away from his teammates, the menace of Arizona’s supporting cast has forced defenses into a policy of honesty when facing the Cardinals; teams can no longer afford extra coverage to Hopkins, in fear of being exposed elsewhere.
Unlocked once again, Hopkins has reestablished himself as Arizona’s top receiving threat. He has nine receptions, 142 yards, and three touchdowns, collectively, in the last two weeks versus the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns. It is indicative of Murray’s maturity that he effectively froze Hopkins out, but telling of his faith that he so quickly returned to targeting him. He won’t force it as he has in the past, but the completion to Hopkins on that downfield heave against the Niners showed that when he can, Murray will throw to him; Hopkins is always the first option in this offense.
Hopkins’s season has taken somewhat of a natural progression, and therefore his production will likely continue to ebb and flow throughout the year. Such is the extent of his ability that, when called upon, he will always deliver. Now, Arizona can call on others to shoulder the load in the passing game. There may be ways that Kliff Kingsbury can continue to explore to create opportunities for Hopkins, regardless of coverage, but forcing the ball to Hopkins does a disservice to the depth of Arizona’s offensive armory. Hopkins will be effective every week for Arizona, either as a decoy or as the game-breaking receiver he is. He isn’t the only option the Cardinals have anymore but, when available, he’s certainly the best.
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