If I asked you to name a future Hall of Famer from the Houston Texans, you (and every other NFL fan) would undoubtedly say J. J. Watt. Watt is certainly an incredible player, but another Texan has actually outshone him through the first six games of the 2015 NFL season—third-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
What makes Hopkins’ stellar play so intriguing is that he’s never been in the spotlight. He hasn’t made a Pro Bowl, and he didn’t appear in the NFL Top 100 for 2015. During his college days at Clemson, he was overshadowed by teammate Sammy Watkins. In the 2013 NFL Draft, he wasn’t selected until the end of the first round—19 picks after Tavon Austin. He spent his first two seasons in Houston playing second fiddle to Andre Johnson.
Despite the fact that he isn’t a household name like Julio Jones or Dez Bryant, Hopkins is currently on pace for the best season by a wide receiver in NFL history.
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Let’s break it down. Through six games, Hopkins has hauled in 52 receptions for 726 receiving yards and 5 touchdowns. For most NFL players, those would be solid stats for an entire season—yet Hopkins still has 10 regular season games left to play. If he keeps up that torrid pace, Hopkins will finish with 138 receptions for 1,936 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. Quite simply, that would be the greatest season by a wide receiver in NFL history.
According to Pro Football Reference, only one receiver in NFL history posted 120+ receptions, 1800+ receiving yards and 10+ touchdowns in a single season. Jerry Rice did it in 1995, when he hauled in 122 receptions for 1,848 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Other than Mr. Rice, this is uncharted territory. Calvin Johnson had a spectacular 2012 campaign, pulling down 122 receptions for an NFL single-season record of 1,964 receiving yards. But Megatron only grabbed 5 passes for touchdowns.
Hopkins’ success is a direct result of his tenacious work ethic. He’s well-known for staying after practice to get in extra reps, and he has an intimate knowledge of the playbook. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien recently told ESPN that Hopkins knows how to play four or five different positions on offense. That versatility allows him to line up all over the field and attack defenses in unexpected ways. His success has not surprised him, given how hard he has worked for it. “I put the hard work in the off-season, so I expected to be where I am,” Hopkins told ESPN.
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If Hopkins keeps playing at this astonishing level, he’ll vault himself into the discussion about the league’s best players. The sample size is admittedly small, and the Texans quarterback situation has been far from ideal, but don’t be surprised if Hopkins ends up putting together one of the all-time greatest—if not the greatest—seasons by an NFL wide receiver.