Michael Floyd, Alshon Jeffery, and 2014’s Sophomore Breakout
Recently, RotoViz released their August redraft rankings for wide receivers. DeAndre Hopkins ranked in at No. 31, which is actually six spots higher than his ADP of WR37. Elsewhere he’s listed as WR43. So in the grand scheme of things, our rankers were actually pretty bullish on Hopkins’ prospects. I just don’t think they were bullish enough on Hopkins. In fact, I think everybody is way too low on Hopkins. That’s because Hopkins has all the makings of a league-winner. Let me explain.
The main argument against Hopkins having a true breakout in 2014 is the presence of Andre Johnson. That certainly is a huge obstacle. The recurring comparison I see is to Michael Floyd. People seem to think Hopkins will have a true breakout in his third season, which is what they expect to happen with Floyd this year. Here are the 2013 stat lines for Floyd and elder teammate Larry Fitzgerald.
When people make the comparison to Floyd they seem to be missing the point that Floyd was one of the best draft picks you could have made last year. He was being drafted as WR45 and finished as WR31 in PPR points per game and WR25 overall.
Oddly, a comparison I haven’t seen often is Alshon Jeffery. The common argument against Hopkins in 2014 is identical to the common argument against Jeffery in 2013. Still, Jeffery broke out. Here are Jeffery’s and Brandon Marshall‘s 2013 stat lines.
Jeffery represented even more of a value than Floyd. He was drafted as WR48 and finished as WR10 in PPR points per game and WR8 overall.
If we’re going to compare Hopkins to Floyd and Jeffery we should probably look at their rookie stat lines.
Hopkins did play in 16 games, whereas Floyd and Jeffery played in 15 and 10 games respectively. Even if you prorate their stats1 Hopkins still had the most impressive rookie year. Given that all three were highly drafted and strong prospects coming out of college, that suggests he has a better chance to breakout as a sophomore than Floyd or Jeffery did. The added game experience is actually a plus on its own.
The “common sense” suggestion that Johnson will prevent a Hopkins breakout contradicts what happened with both Floyd and Jeffery last year. Sure, Johnson has been a perennial PPR monster, but Brandon Marshall outscored Johnson in both 2012 and 2013 and Jeffery still managed to breakout. Another thing you may have noticed is that Floyd and Jeffery came close to matching their respective teammates’ production despite scoring five less TDs apiece. Johnson has never scored more than nine TDs in a single season, and he only scored three TDs more than Hopkins last season. So it’s quite possible that Hopkins has more TD scoring potential than Floyd or Jeffery had.
Per the WR Similarity Score App, Hopkins’ high-end projection in PPR is 12.3 points per game. That would have made him WR34 in points per game last year. But just because it’s his high-end projection doesn’t mean it’s his best-case scenario. Here is his similarity score plot:
You’ll notice that six of his comps saw an increase of approximately 50 percent or more in fantasy points per game the following season. That would give Hopkins 13.5 points per game, which would have put him right between T.Y. Hilton and Kendall Wright last year. That’s good company in PPR leagues. Two of his comps actually doubled their production. That would have given him 18 points per game. That would have made him WR10 in points per game last year, ahead of Jeffery, Floyd, and Johnson. The best comp is Josh Gordon’s legendary 2013 season. That would actually have given him similar production to Gordon. I don’t think that’s a particularly realistic outcome, but don’t ever let it be said that Hopkins does not possess a substantial amount of upside. Not only is Hopkins similar to breakout stars like Jeffery and Floyd, if he follows in the path of six of his twenty most comparable players he’ll also breakout.
Johnson may not be as big an obstacle as he seems anyway. There’s a lot of reason to expect a decline in production for him. Johnson has always been a target hog, but his 181 targets in 2013 were actually the most he has ever had in his career. Consider that Hopkins is the best WR Johnson has ever played with. Consider that Gary Kubiak, who always forces targets to his number one WR, is no longer in town. There’s no question that Johnson will see fewer targets in 2014, it’s just a matter of what the number is. If Johnson sees a smaller market share of targets than in the past, a significant percentage of those are likely going to Hopkins. I think Johnson will see more targets than Hopkins, I just also think the difference will be less than 25, much like it was for Floyd and Jeffery.
Johnson has other red flags as well. Johnson is 33 years old. He staged a holdout. He’s been sidelined with a hamstring injury since July 28. There is a high risk of further injury. All of his time off the field has given Hopkins the opportunity to impress coaches and onlookers alike.
I understand that I may sound overly bullish on Hopkins, but we loved Hopkins as a prospect, he had a strong rookie season, and he fits one of the four main breakout profiles. The reasons to like Hopkins this year are largely the same reasons you should have liked Floyd, Jeffery, and Gordon last year. If you drafted all three last year you probably had both the best and the cheapest group of starting WRs in your league. If anything, I don’t think we’ve been beating the drum enough for Hopkins this year. It’s not a foregone conclusion that Hopkins breaks out, but there’s a lot of reason to believe he will. He probably has as much positive expected value as any draft pick this year. I’m not merely recommending that you draft Hopkins, I’m insisting that you do so.
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- Not a perfect method obviously, but functional. (back)