Why DeAndre Hopkins can win OPOY: time for nuk is now

By: Jason Ferris

The AP’s NFL Offensive Player of the Year award is an illustrious one rich in history and lore. Since it’s inception in 1972, the award has been handed out forty-nine times, with Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans being the most recent recipient. 

Scrolling through the list of past winners conjures up fond memories of dynasties such as Bill Walsh’s West Coast 49er teams and Marshall Faulk’s Greatest Show on Turf. But through all of the years of record-breaking performances and iconic moments, only two wide receivers have ever earned the coveted Offensive Player of the Year award: San Francisco’s Jerry Rice (1987 and 1993) and New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas (2019). That’s it. That’s the list. No Randy Moss. No Calvin Johnson. No, Michael Irvin.

It’s not hard to see that quarterbacks and running backs truly are the chosen ones when it comes to NFL awards. They are the cover boys who drive for the show while the rest putt for the proverbial dough.

But with all of the incredibly talented wide receivers that have entered the league in the past few years, not to mention this year’s sizzling incoming crop, it is only a matter of time before another wide receiver claims the title of NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. Question is, who will it be? DeAndre Hopkins. Sounds like a future Jeopardy answer that Aaron Rodgers might be giving and it should be. Hopkins is as elite a wide receiver as there is in the league today and oh, by the way, his quarterback is just about to enter his prime.

DeAndre Hopkins has been nominated for the OPOY before and he last finished runner up in 2018 to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and his ridiculous 52 total touchdowns. He is a highlight waiting to happen on every snap and his time has come. Here are the reasons why Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins will be crowned the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2021:

The Stats

In the world of sports, stats are important – Really important. Ever try to frame a house without screws? Well in sports, stats are those screws.

Hopkins’ 2020 season was exceptional for most but average for him. He posted 115 catches for 1407 yards and 6 touchdowns. Statistically, it was his fourth-best season in his eight-year career thus far.  He is a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time First-Team All-Pro. In his last six seasons, DeAndre Hopkins has been in the top 5 in receiving yards four times and top 3 in receptions in each of the last three years. He has posted 1,100 yards or more six times and soared over 1,500 twice.  Hopkins has the pedigree to win the OPOY award, of that there is no doubt. But had Derrick Henry not had the monster 2027 yard and 17 touchdown season, would DeAndre Hopkins have been considered for the award last year? Probably not.

Looking back at the past wide receiver winners of the OPOY award tells a story. In order to even be considered for the award, wide receivers have to go well beyond what is considered a ‘great’ season for their position. For example, when Michael Thomas won it in 2019, he posted 149 catches for 1724 yards, and 9 touchdowns. In 1987, Jerry Rice won the award after a season in which he scored 22 times. Both are astronomical in their own right but there have been other performances worthy of the award throughout the years.

The moral of the story is that if you are a wide receiver looking to take home the OPOY, be prepared to have to put up historical numbers in order to be considered. Otherwise, the award is going to the best quarterback or running back that year. Plain and simple. In order for Hopkins to take the hardware home next season, he is going to have to crush his career bests. And he will.

The Past

The Arizona Cardinals finished a blah 8-8 in 2020, good for third in the division and an early tee time rather than a playoff game. In a division that was there for the taking, the 2020 season was a disappointment. Losses to the lowly Dolphins, Patriots, and Lions, combined with two crucial losses to the division rival Rams summed up the 2020 season for the Cardinals. 

So for a team that scored 410 points (good for 13th in the league) and was 12th in total defense, why did that not translate into more wins? What went wrong? The answer is quite simple. Kyler Murray. Not his 67.2% completion (up from 64.4% in 2019), not his QB rating of 94.3 (up from 87.4 in 2019), nor was it his 26 TDs (up from 20 TDs in 2019). No statistically, Murray had an excellent sophomore year. He definitely improved over his rookie season. The problem with Murray in 2020 was that he was always on the run.

NFL teams took note of Kyler Murray’s impressive rookie season. So much so that the universal consensus amongst defensive coordinators was to turn up the heat on Murray. Teams dialed up a total of 156 blitzes against Murray in 2020, creating a pocket where he was pressured 16.7% of the time. Even though that was not the most in the league, it was enough to send Murray scrambling 56 times on broken plays. Having his quarterback rush 133 times for 819 yards (2nd on the team) pretty much drained the life out of DeAndre’s OPOY aspirations.  

The Future

It does not take a genius to see that Kyler Murray, and DeAndre Hopkins indirectly, could benefit from a little more time to execute timing and routes. The re-signing of Kelvin Beachum and Max Garcia was a good start but more line work needs to be done. The upcoming draft has Arizona picking at #16 and #49 in the first two rounds and although running back is a definite need, an offensive lineman should be gracing their draft board in the first round. OT Alex Leatherwood (Alabama) or OT Jackson Carman (Clemson) would look great in Cardinal red. 

Kliff Kingsbury also needs to ramp up Hopkins’s involvement for maximum production. DeAndre Hopkins lined up for only 92% of Arizona’s offensive plays last year. To give that stat some perspective, during Hopkin’s most productive years in 2015 and 2018, he was on the field for 97% and 99% of his teams’ snaps respectively. Now maybe the NFL’s version of ‘load management’ for it’s players is to monitor and manage a player’s snap count, but DeAndre Hopkins obviously thrives as a workhorse and benefits from the reps. Kliff if you are reading this, get Hopkins on the field more.

DeAndre Hopkins has the best chance of any wide receiver out there to win the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award next season. Besides his obvious elite talent and very favorable playing situation with Kyler Murray, Hopkins personifies durability. In eight seasons (plus 6 playoff games), he has only missed a game twice. That is 132 out of 134 games for those of you trying to do the calculation. This, more than any other X factor, separates Hopkins from the rest. This will be the year that DeAndre putts for the dough and steals the show.

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