Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 Dec 2015

Catch Radius: DeAndre Hopkins

by Scott Kacsmar

While he had a big night on Thursday, Tavon Austin entered Week 15 ranked dead last (73rd) in DVOA and DYAR among wide receivers this season. Barring a dramatic improvement, the Rams will always be skewered for making Austin the first wide receiver taken in the 2013 draft. The second receiver taken that year? DeAndre Hopkins lasted 18 more picks after Austin, falling to the Texans at 27th. Now in his third season, Hopkins' only competition for the title of best wide receiver from his draft class is Keenan Allen.

Hopkins already has more than 1,200 receiving yards for the second year in a row and a career-high 10 touchdown catches. While "Nuk" has cooled off in recent weeks, Hopkins is one of the leading candidates for first-team All-Pro honors at his position this season. On Sunday, he will play in the biggest game of his young career as Houston looks to beat the Colts to take control of the AFC South. Hopkins will have to shine with Houston's third starting quarterback of the season, T.J. Yates. That may be one of the best arguments in Hopkins' favor -- he has also caught passes from Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett this season. Antonio Brown's production is largely tied to the availability of Ben Roethlisberger. Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. have more stable quarterback situations with Matt Ryan and Eli Manning.

That difference in quarterback would seem to explain a lot of the negative 2015 numbers associated with Hopkins, namely his ranking of 34th in DVOA, and the second-lowest YAC rate (15.3 percent of his total yardage) in the NFL. Only Sammy Watkins (13.7 percent) produces less YAC than Hopkins, but his average target is nearly 5 yards deeper (19.2) down the field. Interestingly enough, Austin leads all wideouts with roughly 77 percent YAC after last night's game, which is what he did in 2012 for West Virginia. Going back to their college days together at Clemson, Watkins had numbers similar to Austin, while Hopkins had 28.0 percent YAC in 2012.

Maybe adjusting to all of those inaccurate passes makes it difficult for Hopkins to do a lot after the catch. However, after doing a catch radius study on Hopkins' three seasons, I have changed my mind on him. Instead of wondering if Hopkins could be the best wide receiver in the NFL, I am not sold that he is even the best in the AFC South, not with T.Y. Hilton's history and the breakout year from Allen Robinson.

Catch Radius

That statement is not so bold when you remember that Hilton had 1,345 yards a year ago and has played with banged-up quarterbacks this season. Robinson is currently tied for the league lead with 12 touchdowns, and it's not like Blake Bortles is a pillar of efficiency. But before I qualify that statement, let's quantify the catch radius for Hopkins in his three seasons.

DeAndre Hopkins: Catch Radius (2013-2015)
Type of Catch 2013 Pct. 2014 Pct. 2015 Pct. Total Pct.
Total 52 - 76 - 89 - 217 -
Chest-Level 27 51.9% 46 60.5% 52 58.4% 125 57.6%
Chest-Low 3 5.8% 4 5.3% 1 1.1% 8 3.7%
Chest-High 0 0.0% 0 0.0% 2 2.2% 2 0.9%
Chest-All 30 57.7% 50 65.8% 55 61.8% 135 62.2%
Above the head 6 11.5% 3 3.9% 7 7.9% 16 7.4%
Below the waist 2 3.8% 1 1.3% 1 1.1% 4 1.8%
Diving to ground 3 5.8% 6 7.9% 8 9.0% 17 7.8%
Eye-level 7 13.5% 10 13.2% 7 7.9% 24 11.1%
Over the shoulder 3 5.8% 2 2.6% 8 9.0% 13 6.0%
Pass thrown wide 1 1.9% 4 5.3% 3 3.4% 8 3.7%

Despite all of the quarterback changes in Houston, these numbers are not that jumpy from year to year. This season, Hopkins has made more over-the-shoulder catches as the Texans love to use him down the sideline in the range of 20 to 30 yards. That is where he is at his best as a deep threat. He has also dug out more passes that were low to the ground, though six of those came from Mallett and only two from Hoyer.

If this is the first time you have seen any of my catch radius numbers and are wondering what other wideouts do, here is the updated table of all 45 player-seasons that I have studied. The chest-level and eye-level catches are usually the sweet spot for a typical catch in the NFL, so the last column combines those together and is shown in ascending order -- the lower this number, the more often a receiver has to reach high, low or to the side to make a spectacular catch. Hopkins' 2015 season is his most impressive in many ways, though he is still not that far off from the averages studied to this point.

Summary of Wide Receiver Catch Radii Study
Receiver Year Team Ht Rec. CHEST% EYE% ATH% DIVE% OTS% WIDE% CHEST+EYE
Mike Evans 2014 TB 77 68 32.4% 20.6% 22.1% 4.4% 13.2% 7.4% 52.9%
Sammy Watkins 2014 BUF 73 65 33.8% 20.0% 21.5% 3.1% 4.6% 13.8% 53.8%
Kelvin Benjamin 2014 CAR 77 73 45.2% 15.1% 26.0% 2.7% 2.7% 8.2% 60.3%
Odell Beckham Jr. 2014 NYG 71 91 41.8% 20.9% 22.0% 3.3% 3.3% 7.7% 62.6%
Brandon Marshall 2013 CHI 76 100 43.0% 21.0% 13.0% 4.0% 3.0% 15.0% 64.0%
Alshon Jeffery 2013 CHI 76 89 44.9% 19.1% 14.6% 5.6% 5.6% 10.1% 64.0%
Anquan Boldin 2013 SF 73 85 52.9% 11.8% 7.1% 3.5% 3.5% 17.6% 64.7%
DeSean Jackson 2013 PHI 70 82 43.9% 22.0% 4.9% 1.2% 12.2% 14.6% 65.9%
A.J. Green 2014 CIN 76 69 46.4% 21.7% 17.4% 1.4% 8.7% 4.3% 68.1%
Jordy Nelson 2013 GB 75 85 43.5% 24.7% 10.6% 7.1% 2.4% 11.8% 68.2%
Larry Fitzgerald 2013 ARI 75 82 50.0% 18.3% 7.3% 1.2% 4.9% 18.3% 68.3%
DeAndre Hopkins 2015 HOU 73 89 61.8% 7.9% 7.9% 9.0% 9.0% 3.4% 69.7%
Victor Cruz 2013 NYG 72 73 47.9% 21.9% 13.7% 1.4% 8.2% 5.5% 69.9%
Calvin Johnson 2014 DET 77 71 57.7% 12.7% 9.9% 9.9% 5.6% 2.8% 70.4%
DeAndre Hopkins 2013 HOU 73 52 57.7% 13.5% 11.5% 5.8% 5.8% 1.9% 71.2%
Receiver Year Team Ht Rec. CHEST% EYE% ATH% DIVE% OTS% WIDE% CHEST+EYE
Pierre Garcon 2013 WAS 72 113 51.3% 20.4% 8.8% 2.7% 0.9% 14.2% 71.7%
Dez Bryant 2013 DAL 74 93 58.1% 14.0% 10.8% 0.0% 2.2% 12.9% 72.0%
Antonio Brown 2011 PIT 70 74 62.2% 10.8% 12.2% 5.4% 1.4% 8.1% 73.0%
Emmanuel Sanders 2013 PIT 71 67 62.7% 10.4% 10.4% 9.0% 4.5% 1.5% 73.1%
Julio Jones 2013 ATL 76 41 53.7% 19.5% 12.2% 0.0% 4.9% 9.8% 73.2%
A.J. Green 2013 CIN 76 98 44.9% 28.6% 9.2% 1.0% 9.2% 7.1% 73.5%
Jordy Nelson 2014 GB 75 98 46.9% 26.5% 7.1% 6.1% 5.1% 7.1% 73.5%
Calvin Johnson 2013 DET 77 84 58.3% 15.5% 10.7% 2.4% 6.0% 7.1% 73.8%
Eric Decker 2013 DEN 75 87 59.8% 14.9% 4.6% 3.4% 11.5% 5.7% 74.7%
Antonio Brown 2012 PIT 70 66 65.2% 10.6% 10.6% 4.5% 1.5% 4.5% 75.8%
Doug Baldwin 2013 SEA 70 50 60.0% 16.0% 2.0% 2.0% 12.0% 8.0% 76.0%
Mike Wallace 2014 MIA 72 67 67.2% 9.0% 4.5% 10.4% 3.0% 6.0% 76.1%
Marvin Jones 2013 CIN 73 51 56.9% 19.6% 9.8% 3.9% 0.0% 9.8% 76.5%
Rishard Matthews 2013 MIA 72 41 65.9% 12.2% 9.8% 2.4% 2.4% 7.3% 78.0%
Kenny Stills 2013 NO 73 32 62.5% 15.6% 3.1% 9.4% 9.4% 0.0% 78.1%
Receiver Year Team Ht Rec. CHEST% EYE% ATH% DIVE% OTS% WIDE% CHEST+EYE
Vincent Jackson 2013 TB 77 78 65.4% 12.8% 10.3% 2.6% 1.3% 6.4% 78.2%
Antonio Brown 2014 PIT 70 129 66.7% 11.6% 7.0% 0.8% 7.8% 3.9% 78.3%
DeAndre Hopkins 2014 HOU 73 76 65.8% 13.2% 3.9% 7.9% 2.6% 5.3% 78.9%
Mike Wallace 2011 PIT 72 75 76.0% 4.0% 2.7% 4.0% 8.0% 4.0% 80.0%
Mike Wallace 2013 MIA 72 73 74.0% 6.8% 2.7% 4.1% 5.5% 5.5% 80.8%
Alshon Jeffery 2014 CHI 76 85 64.7% 16.5% 8.2% 3.5% 3.5% 3.5% 81.2%
Demaryius Thomas 2013 DEN 75 92 69.6% 12.0% 3.3% 0.0% 10.9% 4.3% 81.5%
Antonio Brown 2013 PIT 70 110 67.3% 14.5% 4.5% 3.6% 3.6% 5.5% 81.8%
Victor Cruz 2014 NYG 72 23 69.6% 13.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 17.4% 82.6%
Brandon Gibson 2013 MIA 72 30 60.0% 23.3% 3.3% 3.3% 3.3% 6.7% 83.3%
Wes Welker 2013 DEN 69 73 71.2% 12.3% 5.5% 5.5% 4.1% 1.4% 83.6%
Brian Hartline 2012 MIA 74 74 67.6% 16.2% 10.8% 0.0% 4.1% 1.4% 83.8%
Brian Hartline 2013 MIA 74 76 60.5% 25.0% 5.3% 3.9% 3.9% 1.3% 85.5%
Mike Wallace 2012 PIT 72 64 79.7% 6.3% 3.1% 6.3% 3.1% 1.6% 85.9%
Keenan Allen 2013 SD 74 71 74.6% 12.7% 2.8% 5.6% 1.4% 2.8% 87.3%
AVERAGES 73.4 74.8 58.0% 15.9% 9.1% 3.9% 5.1% 7.2% 73.9%

I obviously need to study more players and seasons, but the element of height is always interesting for this. Some quarterbacks seem to take advantage of their tall receivers with high passes that are still caught above the head. We saw this last year with Kelvin Benjamin, who had 19 above-the-head catches, trailing only Beckham (20) in total. The 6-foot-1 Hopkins has 16 such catches in his three seasons combined.

The following are some highlight grabs from 2013 and 2014. While he can get down for some low balls, Hopkins' specialty skill so far has been winning contested catches, especially in the red zone.

Note: the following images are captured from NFL Game Pass at the moment of first contact with the ball.

Another thing I learned from this is that with Houston playing so often in the early afternoon slot without CBS' top broadcast teams, you do not get as many nice replays as the higher profile games get. Still, I tried to do my usual job of picking out impressive plays, but only found those eight for Hopkins' first two seasons. I have eight catches highlighted for Hopkins' 2015 season to this point.

The Ease of Bias

I freely admit I do not watch every play of every game in the NFL season due to life's time constraints. I see highlights of every game at a bare minimum, and I watch every close finish in great detail each week. In addition to prime-time games, there are a handful of teams for with I make it a point to watch the full game, and Houston has not been one of them.

Having said that, it is easy to understand why I expected so much more out of this catch radius study. The first time Hopkins really caught my attention was the second game of his career against the Titans in 2013. He made three big catches on a late game-tying drive and caught the game-winning touchdown in overtime. The longest catch of his rookie season was a 66-yard bomb in the fourth quarter against the Patriots. That season the Texans were 2-10 at game-winning drive opportunities, so I got to see a lot of Hopkins' work in crunch time, as well as his only two touchdowns and sole 100-yard game in 2013.

In 2014, I was amazed by the highlights of Hopkins' 238 yards against Tennessee. He had to dive on the ground to make his first three catches that day. Moving on to 2015, Hopkins had a season-high 169 yards against the Colts on a Thursday night. He caught two game-winning touchdowns in the fourth quarter to beat the Jaguars and Bengals, the latter a brilliant one-handed catch over Adam Jones on a Monday night.

"Highlight syndrome" is a real problem for many, and I may have let myself fall victim to it by focusing so much on Hopkins in these high-leverage moments. Houston's quarterback situation in the last three years is an easy way to justify these thoughts about Hopkins' playing style. In addition to this year's unholy quarterback trinity, Hopkins has also caught passes from Matt Schaub (in meltdown mode), Case Keenum, Tom Savage, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Hopkins had been high on my to-do list for catch radius. Given my NFL viewing habits, what I had seen of him and knew about him statistically, and his offense's situation, I expected results that would be very favorable to Hopkins. Like the way A.J. Green reaches up for those hospital balls from Andy Dalton, or the incredible success of last year's rookie class, I thought we could call Hopkins "The Contortionist" as a newfound sign of respect for the way he produces in his offense.

On video, it just never really materialized for me. Hopkins is a very good receiver, but the NFL has a surplus of those right now. It is one thing to mention Hilton or Robinson, but at full health, is anyone really taking Hopkins over Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, Jordy Nelson, Dez Bryant or A.J. Green? Some of the "old reliables" such as Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Larry Fitzgerald are playing very well too and have a track record that cannot be ignored. In addition to Robinson, Watkins and Martavis Bryant from last year's draft are also excelling as young wide receivers.

In watching Hopkins, you can see why he has taken over as Houston's best receiver, a title Andre Johnson had on lockdown for a decade before passing the torch in 2014. However, the decline and departure of Johnson has also opened up more targets for Hopkins, who has had a few garbage-time hero efforts this season with Houston trailing by significant margins. Regardless of when the catches are being made, you also see some holes in Hopkins' game that start to put some of the other stats in context.

The YAC Dilemma (If There Is One)

Hopkins runs nice routes and I like that he really attacks the ball instead of waiting for it to come to him. He has incredible timing on his jumps and very reliable hands. The deficiencies in his game mostly happen after he catches the ball. That is where his game is bland, to put it frankly. As mentioned in the beginning, Hopkins has the second-lowest YAC rate in 2015 at 15.3 percent. He was at 22.6 percent as a rookie and 30.8 percent in 2014. The average wide receiver this season is around 33.8 percent, so he clearly is a below-average YAC wideout. That is not necessarily a bad thing for Hopkins, but the thought that it was a result of his quarterback play does not seem to hold up given the types of catches he has made over the last three years.

YAC+, which adjusts YAC for where the pass was caught, also looks down on Hopkins, who ranked 43rd in 2013 (minus-1.0) and 18th in 2014 (plus-0.3) among qualified wideouts. The 2015 data is still to come, but for 2013-14, Hopkins had negative YAC+ with every quarterback except for Fitzpatrick (plus-1.0).

Hopkins just does not impress physically with the ball in his hands the way a Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas does. While no one would confuse his skillset for that of Golden Tate, Hopkins also lacks the stop-on-a-dime moves of Antonio Brown or the fluidity of Beckham.

In other words, Hopkins lacks the top-end speed of his peers, and that is probably always going to limit his impact on the field. That may also be why he fell to 27th in the draft. Hopkins ran a 4.57 40-yard dash at the combine, but improved that time to 4.41 seconds at Clemson's pro day. Still, it is apparent watching him on film that he is just not likely to break a big play after the catch. However, he is just quick enough to make Brandon Browner look foolish, which may have been my favorite play out of this whole study.

Houston's offense has wisely taken advantage of what Hopkins does well. You rarely see him catch passes within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Out of his 217 catches, only nine were screens or smoke passes, and those plays gained a total of 20 yards. It is not as though Hopkins is incapable of making defenders miss -- see his 2014 game against the Eagles for good YAC plays -- but it is something he lacks as a No. 1 wide receiver who will be looking to cash in big in the near future.

Well, this is probably the weekend where Hopkins goes off for 180 yards and three scores, leading Houston to its first win ever in Indianapolis, where it is 0-13. I want to make it clear that I think Hopkins is a gifted wide receiver, and he should be very high on the list of players you would want going forward due to his age (turns 24 in June). His best days are still to come, and he could benefit from some stability at quarterback for a change.

We just do not want to keep making the "quarterbacks are slowing him down" narrative overblown, as Hopkins' playing style requires a pinpoint passer that few teams in the league have at any given time. The Texans are certainly not one of those teams, but if they soon become one, then you may see Hopkins' efficiency explode.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 18 Dec 2015

7 comments, Last at 21 Dec 2015, 10:40am by meblackstone


by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 12/18/2015 - 9:48pm

Am fan of Hopkins , need to see Robinson more. Did liek bekcham, Landry and robsinon in 2014 drfat. Was lukewarm on Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews. Liked Watkins. Didn't see cooks enough. Liked m. Bryant was deep threat

by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 12/18/2015 - 9:49pm

Re: Robinson
Meant need to see hkm,more in nfl before ranking him. Might be top 10 already. Certainly can achieve top 10 level, maybe top 5 or even mt Rushmore.

Right now mt Rushmore 2015 is beckham, brown, Marshall and some other guy may be Hopkins or jones

by dryheat :: Sat, 12/19/2015 - 11:18am

I feel pretty strongly about Hopkins, Brown, Jones, and Beckham.

by Rich A :: Sat, 12/19/2015 - 12:02am

Given that Hopkins really attacks the ball when it's in the air I'm curious if he has less tipped passes turn into interceptions.

I think there are many receivers who will simply slow their route a bit or reach for the ball without fundamentally altering their momentum; I'm thinking how the Patriots receivers often are hit in stride but how they also they at times do not often come back to the ball and so at times there is a tip that didn't need to happen. I'm thinking of Brady's first pick this year off of an Edelmann tip (Mike Adams of Colts) or the Amendola tip at the goal line (Philly). Yeah, they get a lot of YAC which Hopkins doesn't but they also risk the ball a bit more.

Hopkins however seems like he's going and getting the ball and hence will win those 50-50 balls and thus is so much more dangerous down the field because of how he attacks the ball. I say 'seems' though as I don't watch him much outside of the highlights.

Really interesting article highlighting the problems with viewing only highlights. I'd like to say something more insightful but unfortunately I'm a guy that follows only one team and then catches the highlights and so I can't really say much about the skill of the rest of the receivers around the league.

by Jerry :: Sat, 12/19/2015 - 4:48am

"Going back to their college days together at Clemson, Watkins had numbers similar to Austin, while Hopkins had 28.0 percent YAC in 2012."

It was Hopkins and Watkins at Clemson. I'm not sure if Austin belongs in this particular sentence.

by Mr Shush :: Sat, 12/19/2015 - 8:32pm

Subjectively (but based on having seen just about every NFL game he's played in its entirety) it seems like a lower-mid tier quarterback with better judgment than passing ability like Fitzpatrick or Hoyer is exactly the worst fit for Hopkins. He's capable of being effective when terrible passers lock onto him from the snap and force the ball to him covered-or-not, in a way that few receivers are.

by meblackstone :: Mon, 12/21/2015 - 10:40am

Having seen only a few of his NFL games, but every single one of his college games, and over half of them live, I'll concur.

In college since Tajh Boyd would lock on to Nuk, opposing teams would lock on to him as well, even with Sammy and Martavis out there. That affects YAC.

There has to be something resembling another threat out there to create some space, and no receiver can consistently get free when the ball position leads the receiver into multiple tacklers.

He doesn't need a pinpoint accurate hall of famer, something resembling middle of the road and another offensive threat would make a difference.

His speed is also deceptive. I'd like to see 40s with pads on instead of combine 40s.