The sight of DeAndre Hopkins hobbling around the sideline was harrowing viewing for the Arizona Cardinals and their fans. However, the blow was somewhat softened by the performance of Hopkins’ De Facto replacement on the field. Antoine Wesley, a former Texas Tech star for Kliff Kingsbury, has played a bit-part role for the Cardinals this season. However, in Hopkins’ untimely absence, Wesley has stepped up. Peaking with a solid showing against the Dallas Cowboys, Cardinals fans should be confident that Wesley can replicate DeAndre Hopkins for the rest of this season.
Antoine Wesley Can Replicate DeAndre Hopkins for the Arizona Cardinals
Antoine Wesley Is Arizona’s ‘X’ 2.0
Kingsbury has sought continuity in his offense this season, especially with a few new faces involved. Kingsbury has some luxuries at wide receiver thanks to recruitment in the off-season, but it’s clear that continuity rules in 2021. He’s achieved this by keeping A.J. Green and Christian Kirk, Arizona’s two starters besides Hopkins, in their original spots, at ‘Z’ and in the slot, respectively. Striving for consistency in his offensive personnel has seen Kingsbury opt to leave Green in his usual spot. Green’s legacy with the Cincinnati Bengals reflects his dominance as an All-Decade, All-Pro ‘X’ receiver. For many, sliding Green to Hopkins’ spot would’ve been the logical choice. Yet Green has been solid as Arizona’s ‘Z’ in his first season and, in the pursuit of continuity, will remain in that spot this year.
Wesley is not the second-best receiver on this Cardinals squad, but he is Hopkins’ direct backup. ‘X’ and ‘Z’ receivers differ far more in their roles than simply just their alignments. It’s a whole new role. Moving Green over to ‘X’ has a knock-on effect on other players that’s inconvenient for this stage of the season. The Cardinals can’t have several players trying to learn new roles in the shadow of the playoffs. Therefore, Wesley, who has been running ‘X’ snaps behind Hopkins all season, is the schematically-logical choice. The absence of Hopkins has caused Arizona some problems, but Kingsbury, in his need for consistency, has avoided creating more.
Antoine Wesley is Not DeAndre Hopkins
Wesley is not Hopkins, and that’s not even remotely a slight against Wesley. Hopkins is an All-Pro, arguably the best receiver in the league, and has been Arizona’s most potent offensive weapon since he came over. He is practically impossible to replace, and Arizona’s offense has missed him on the field; merely his presence changes defenses.
Wesley might not be the player Hopkins is right now, but, reassuringly, he does share some of his best characteristics. At 6’4″, Wesley towers over the 6’1″ Hopkins, boasting a frame not too dissimilar to Green on the other side of the field. At 206 pounds, he’s not exactly D.K. Metcalf, but this size significantly helps him to replicate Hopkins’ ability in the contested catch, arguably the most effective weapon in Hopkins’ arsenal. Wesley might not have the All-Pro hands that Hopkins has, as he has had some drops this season. However, against the Cowboys, he showed that, when called upon, he can go up and get it.
Cowboys Performance Proved Wesley Can Replicate DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins’ season has been completely derailed by injury, so Cardinals fans have seen more of Wesley on the field than they may recall. His influence for Arizona has grown in the past weeks, from almost complete obscurity to a climactic performance against Dallas this past Sunday. Perhaps more significantly though, in usage, play design, and indeed, productivity, the game against Dallas showed that Wesley can replicate Hopkins. He lined up in Hopkins’ spot, ran Hopkins’ routes, and caught Hopkins’ touchdowns. He didn’t lead the team in either yards or receptions, but he caught two touchdowns; before he got hurt, what Hopkins’ lacked on the stat sheet, he made up for in red-zone production.
Now, granted, Wesley’s first touchdown was more Kyler Murray at his gunslinging best than anything else; Wesley just had to catch an uncontested ball for the score. However, it is important to note that Wesley has truly cemented himself as that ‘X’ receiver. The play, a read-option into a play-action bootleg pass, saw Murray roll to his left as the rest of the play went right. Only Wesley ran a route to the play side, and Murray hit him. It’s a play that pitted Cowboys defense against nothing but Kyler and his guy, who, thanks to the design and a good measure of trust, was Wesley.
If the first was more Murray, the second was all Wesley. It’s the play that proved Wesley can replicate DeAndre Hopkins. Single coverage, no safety help, Murray takes the shot. Wesley ran a simple fade route, just as Hopkins would. The play was designed to take advantage of the man-to-man matchup, and that ball went Wesley’s way. It was a good ball, but Wesley won at the line and elevated in the endzone to win at the point of the catch. It was a Hopkins play and a Hopkins catch, but it was Wesley’s score. Arizona’s top guy is ostensibly out for the year, but Wesley can replicate DeAndre Hopkins, proving so against Dallas. Going forward, he will be the ‘X’ for an Arizona offense that looks to return to a lethal standard of potency in the playoffs.
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