Why DeAndre Hopkins was the Best Receiver in 2015
Last season was a breakout year for DeAndre Hopkins. But more than that, he was the best receiver in the league last year and this is why.
Before I get into it here, let me just say this is not meant as a slight to either Antonio Brown or Julio Jones. Both of those guys are great players in their own rights. But last year when looking at the situations they faced, Hopkins did the best job in light of what he had to work with.
These days, there is a widely spread perception that Antonio Brown is the best receiver in the league and it’s not even close. This notion is completely false. But it gets circulated around for the following reasons:
1. The Steelers get as much TV exposure as anyone (except maybe the Cowboys)
It’s more than just prime time games, which the Steelers had four to the Texans three last season, but even games that come on in the second window on Sundays when there isn’t another game on regional coverage makes a difference. It helped that some of Brown’s biggest games came on National TV, specifically against the Patriots (133 yards in the season opener) and Broncos (189 yards late in the season against the eventual Super Bowl champions).
2. His numbers over the past three seasons have been incredible
In 2013, Brown started a great three year run with 110 catches for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns. In each of the next two season he improved on those numbers with 129/1,698/13 and 136/1,834/10 last season. While those numbers are fantastic, not all numbers are created equal. If you look at the offensive situations in Pittsburgh as a opposed to Houston and Atlanta, the whole package in Pittsburgh is far better than the other two.
If you assert to someone that Hopkins is on the same level as either of the other two, you usually will get one of these two assertions in response:
1. Hopkins has the numbers he does because he’s the only target Houston has
Well…it’s not entirely untrue, but if you’re going to say that the only reason Hopkins is targeted is because there’s nobody else to throw to and Brown would have bigger numbers if he was the only target in Pittsburgh; explain why Brown was targeted more often than Hopkins was last year. Yes it was 195 to 192, but still according to these people Hopkins should have had bunches more targets. Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton are arguably the best trio of receivers in the league, and even if you match up with all of them you still had Heath Miller to worry about. Therefore, teams can’t roll all their coverage to Brown like teams can with Hopkins. So clearly being the only real threat in Houston is not an advantage.
Now if you want to assert that Jones is the only real threat in Atlanta, I wouldn’t fight that notion. They haven’t had a tight end that helped in the passing game since Tony Gonzalez retired. Roddy White also declined quickly over the last few years. However, Matt Ryan is somewhere around the middle of NFL quarterbacks and it’s still better than what Hopkins had. Like Brown, Jones had 136 catches last season, and actually had the highest YPC at 13.8. However he had the fewest touchdowns with eight and the most drops with six. Hopkins had three, Brown had two.
2. Since Houston has a terrible quarterback, they’ll target the number one receiver more
Okay, so by this logic Brown should have had his best games when Big Ben was hurt, right? That’s the opposite of what happened. Brown had 50 receiving yards in three of the four games that Big Ben missed. Without Ben, he completely disappeared.
This is not meant to bash Brown and what’s he’s done over the past couple years. He’s been a great player without a doubt. But when you look at what he had to work with and what Hopkins had to work with last season, it’s clear Hopkins was better considering what he had around him.
As far as Jones goes, it’s a bit more ambiguous. On the surface he had better numbers, leading the league in receiving yards. But a full season of Matt Ryan, even though he might be just a middle of the pack quarterback anymore, is still better than what Hopkins had. Even so, Hopkins found the end zone more, had fewer drops and did it all with massive amounts of uncertainty at quarterback, something Jones didn’t have to deal with.