The original version of this article published on December 30, 2019. Since that time, we have combine numbers. How does Hopkins showing at the combine change his NFL outlook? Read on to find out?
If Brycen Hopkins needs any help in how to deal with the pressures of being a top draft prospect, he only needs to turn to his family for advice. Hopkins’s father, Brad Hopkins, was a first-round selection by the Houston Oilers in the 1993 NFL Draft. Hopkins Sr. played 13 seasons in the NFL, earning two Pro Bowl nods as well as an All-Pro berth in 2000. The younger Hopkins has not followed in his dad’s footsteps by manning the offensive line, however. Hopkins has earned his acclaim as a tight end, and one of the best in the country heading into the 2020 NFL Draft.
Despite coming from a family with an NFL pedigree, Hopkins initially seemed to be more focused on basketball as a youngster. He didn’t start playing football at The Ensworth School until his junior year. 247 Sports had him as a two-star prospect as the 73rd ranked TE prospect in the 2015 recruiting class. Hopkins received offers from Jacksonville State, Mercer, and Florida. But he eventually committed to Purdue.
Hopkins redshirted his freshman year and only took the field in 2016. His role and production increased with every season up to his near dominant 2019 senior year. Hopkins had three games with more than 100 receiving yards, as well as four games with eight or more receptions. Against Maryland in Week 7, Hopkins caught 10 passes for 140 yards. This was the most yards in a single game by a Boilermaker TE since 2007. He went two yards better against Indiana in his final game of the season. He reeled in eight receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns. This marked his third game of the year with two scores.
Hopkins received many plaudits for his 2019 deeds. He was named First Team All-Big Ten and also won the Kwalick–Clark Tight End of the Year award. Past winners of this prize include T.J. Hockenson (2018) and Jake Butt, who won it in 2015 and 2016.
Hopkins is certainly a player that the draft community seems to like. He is the No.1 ranked TE over at CBS as well as the Draft Network. However, this does not mean he is a player without flaws or a “can’t miss” prospect. Benjamin Solak of the Draft Network writes that
While (Hopkins) athleticism is really exciting, his inability to block with consistency both in the box and out wide limits how many reps he can take throughout the game.
Solak also mentions that Hopkins has “inconsistent hands,” which is a concern for any player who may be tasked with catching the ball.
It was a pretty good day/night for Hopkins in Indianapolis. Only Albert Okwuegbunam posted a faster 40-yard dash time than Hopkins among the TEs. He tied for the fourth-most reps on the bench too, while also boasting the third-best shuttle time.
From a percentile point of view, Hopkins wasn’t fantastic. But he was far from a disaster. His performance in the 40-yard dash is certainly something that NFL evaluators will take notice of. So should fantasy owners too.
WHAT HISTORY TELLS US
In his seminal work on the NFL Scouting Combine Drills that matter for TEs, Kevin Cole produced the tree you can see below.
Speed is the first node that TEs would negotiate. A strong showing at the 40-yard dash opens up all the other possibilities. This could see a prospect fall into the ever-important node 15. Hopkins time sees him do just that. He also cleared the bench node but did fall just short with a 33.5 vertical. All in all, Hopkins’s performance in this model should be celebrated.
We also have to consider Hopkins’ age when assessing his potential as a future fantasy relevant TE. Hopkins will turn 23 in March, making him a relatively old rookie. Blair Andrews has done some tremendous work on age as it relates to a prospect’s fantasy production, including this piece on TEs. Prior to the 2018 NFL Draft, Blair looked at all individual players’ seasons since 2000. He was looking for average PPR points per season for each draft age cohort. The results are staggering.
In Blair’s own words
Since 2000, TEs who played their rookie seasons at age 21 scored, on average, over 130 fantasy points per season over their careers. No other age cohort averaged even 60 fantasy points per season.
An outlier is always possible, of course. Indeed, there have been a number of older TEs who have come into their own late in their careers. Gary Barnidge is a recent example of this. But the numbers suggest that when it comes to consistent top-end fantasy production, TE is no country for old men.
Hopkins has a good chance to be the first TE taken in this year’s draft. But there are enough red flags to suggest that, in concert with the usual growing pains attached to the TE spot in the NFL, he won’t become a superstar at his position. For Hopkins, the landing spot could be absolutely crucial to his chances of producing at the next level. If he lands with a team and a coach who knows how to utilize his skill set, he could potentially buck the recent trend of older rookies at his position. But if he is, in the words of Ben Solak, “a situational player who doesn’t dominate in his position,” then expectations should be severely tempered.