With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.
43. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
We continue this year's series with Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, one of the more intriguing and complete receivers in this start class. In 2012, Hopkins finished off his third straight productive season for the Tigers and blazed a few statistical trails along the way. He caught 51 passes for 626 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman, improved with 72 receptions for 978 yards and five touchdowns in 2011, and went off the hook in 2012. That's when he caught 82 passes for an ACC-best 1,405 yards and a school record 18 touchdowns. With nothing more to prove after his junior year was over, Hopkins made the wise move to go pro. Though he hasn't been a big name like Cordarrelle Patterson, Keenan Allen, or Tavon Austin, it's possible that in the right system, Hopkins could be the most productive receiver in this class.
Pros: Generally speaking, plays bigger than his size. Dynamic and physical receiver in space who can be a legitimate yards-after-catch and yards-after-contact threat. Doesn't have a fifth gear, but manages functional field speed with good elusiveness on quick cuts, especially little nods on vertical routes. Will consistently bull through tacklers for extra yards. Excellent cuts on quick routes; will use them to gain instant separation, and then, it's off to the races. Adjusts well to defenders in front of his after the catch -- uses quick foot fakes and lateral agility to remain upright when some receivers wouldn't.
Outstanding boundary receiver who will bring in sideline routes and end zone fades with defenders on him. Consistently high-points catches and comes down with the ball -- 36-inch vertical leap was one of the highest among receivers at the combine, and that shows up on tape. Adjusts to the ball well in the air and will lay out to make the catch. Practiced at feigning routes and turning on a dime -- would seem a natural in any system with heavy option route designs (think New England).
Puts forth consistent effort as a run and downfield blocker, though this is not yet a strength -- he struggles to get his body turned around quickly at times. Adjusts to press coverage with foot-fakes and physical hand-fighting. Very effective with digs, curls, and other comebacks to leave cornerbacks on their own islands. Continues to fight for position and stay open when his quarterback is flushed out of the pocket.
Cons: Could use a bit more weight on his frame -- high-cut, long-legged player who occasionally gets clumsy with his feet in the open field. Not a returner at all -- had one of the more comical fair catch attempts in NCAA history against North Carolina State. Needs to better establish the sideline on longer routes when the cornerback has inside position -- tends to get muscled out too easily. Will occasionally short-arm balls thrown to him over the middle, though this doesn't seem to be a consistent issue.
Conclusion: Hopkins' real breakout game from an NFL projection standpoint may have been his last with Clemson, when he caught 13 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns in a 25-24 Chik-Fil-A Bowl win over LSU. That game was a great capsule of all his attributes -- he got open downfield quickly on vertical routes, got open underneath over and over with quick cuts, and continued to make plays even when LSU's defenders were beating him up. In that game, and through most of the 2012 season, Hopkins showed every attribute common to the best possession receivers in the NFL. Quarterback Tajh Boyd completed less than 20 passes in four of the last six regular-season games in 2012, and in a more wide-open system, I think Hopkins was playing at a level that would have netted him well over 100 catches.
In the pros, Hopkins could be a featured "X-iso" receiver for some teams, but among teams in need of a second receiver with toughness and route awareness to complement a pure speed receiver, Hopkins might be even more effective. Make no mistake, though -- in this receiver class, there's nobody that stands head and shoulders above him, and the more you watch Hopkins, there's more to like.
The 4.57 40-yard dash he ran at the scouting combine may reinforce the perception that Hopkins doesn't have a burner gear, but improving his times to the sub-4.5 level at Clemson's Pro Day on Thursday will have some NFL teams going back to tape and wondering if he isn't their ideal late first-round pick. The Julio Jones comparison is a bit of a stretch at this point (interestingly, Hopkins also has elements of Roddy White in his game), but over time? Hopkins could have that kind of impact.
NFL Comparison: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
More Shutdown 50:
#50: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State | #49: John Jenkins, DL, Georgia | #48: Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, DE, Florida State | #47: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State | #46: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse | #45: E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State | #44: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU