The Jets will run with rookie Carter

By: Jason Ferris

Here’s today’s riddle. What rookie had one less carry than fellow rookie Javonte Williams, was drafted 72 spots later, but actually had more rushing yards and better yards per carry average? Well, that would be none other than Williams’ fellow North Carolina teammate Michael Carter. 

When the New York Jets turned in Carters’ card with the 107th pick overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, they moved one step closer to finding clarity in their backfield. With the departure of Frank Gore, and his 203 touches, the Jets running backs’ room may be crowded, but it lacks a solid incumbent. 

Tevin Coleman: On the surface, the newly acquired free agent looks to be the RB1. In four years with the Atlanta Falcons, Coleman rushed the ball 528 times for 2,340 yards, 18 touchdowns, and a respectable 4.4 yards per rush average. He added another 92 receptions and 11 touchdowns through the air. However, the past two seasons in San Francisco have not been so productive for Coleman. His 165 rush attempts for 597 yards, six touchdowns and a 3.6 yards per attempt are not lead-back numbers. 

La’Mical Perine:  Drafted in the 4th round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Perine’s rookie season with the Jets was unspectacular. In 10 games he rushed 64 times for 232 yards, two touchdowns, and a 3.6 yards per rush average. The most telling stat, however, was Perine’s inability to create additional yardage as elite backs do. At 1.6 yards after contact and only two broken tackles all season, Perine lacks the explosive playmaking ability that an NFL team looks for in its RB1.

Ty Johnson: Rumour has it that Johnson and Carter are really making that hard push in training camp to come out on top of the Jets running back depth chart. In 2020, Johnson appeared in 11 games with the Jets rushing 54 times for 254 yards and one touchdown. But as with Perine, Johnson lacks the ability to extend running plays. He averaged 1.8 yards after contact and managed to break only a solitary tackle all season. 

The 2020 Jets were the worst in the NFL offensively (32nd overall) and were dead last in the league in rushing touchdowns. It helped lead to the firing of head coach Adam Gase and the hiring of Robert Saleh. New offensive coordinator Mike Lafleur joins Saleh, both of whom learned under 49er head coach Kyle Shanahan, and will look to develop an offense similar to the ones the 49ers ran during their tenure. And in that scheme, the running backs are vital to the success of it. 

Carter is the perfect fit. He rushed 514 times in college for 3,404 yards, 22 touchdowns and a healthy 6.6 yards per rush attempt average. He added 82 more receptions for 656 yards, six more touchdowns, and an average of 8.0 yards per reception. But what sets Carter apart from the rest of the Jets’ running backs, what makes him a potential elite NFL running back, is both his explosiveness and his ball security. In 2020, Carter rushed 157 times, gained an additional 702 yards after initial contact (4.47 average per attempt) all without coughing up the ball even once. That is what an NFL coach dreams about and that is exactly what is going to make Michael Carter RB1 for the New York Jets in 2021 and beyond. 

Zack Moss needs to step up and be the true RB1

It’s time for Zack Moss to be the Bills RB1

By: Jason Ferris

At 15-3, and one win away from the Super Bowl, one glaring offensive weakness was exposed in Buffalo Bills’ second-ranked offense in the league in their 38-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2020 AFC Championship.

Statistically, the Bills’ offense was not terrible in that game. Josh Allen played well, throwing for 287 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, the Bills ran for a combined 126 yards.

On the surface, it all looks like a balanced offensive output but in reality, the Bills’ ineffective running game was exposed. Of the 126 yards rushing, 88 of those came from quarterback Allen himself. He led his team in both attempts and yards, generally not a recipe for success in any game, let alone a conference championship game.

Yearlong starter Devin Singletary managed just 17 yards on six carries. The lack of a legitimate running game had finally caught up with the Bills. 

In Singletary’s final year of college at Florida Atlantic, the bruising back rushed 235 times for 1,416 yards and 17 touchdowns. That is the type of production the Bills were looking for when they drafted him in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. But in the two years since being drafted, Singletary has regressed.

As a rookie, he carried the ball 151 times for a healthy 5.1 yards/attempt and 20 broken tackles. It was a promising start. But by the time he had finished his sophomore season with the Bills, Singletary carried the ball 156 times for a very mediocre 4.4 yards/carry. He was 25th in the league in yards with 687 and 31st in broken tackles with nine.

The biggest elephant in the Bills’ running back’s room is that Singletary has scored only six total touchdowns, which translates into a scoring rate of 1.6% per touch, while fumbling five times over his first two years. By contrast, David Montgomery of the Chicago Bears, who was drafted one spot before Singletary, has scored 17 touchdowns on 568 touches over the same period. That is a scoring rate of 3.0% per touch, even with the bigger workload. Singletary simply isn’t measuring up to what he was drafted as.  

It is hard to rest the entire blame for the Bills’ lack of running attack solely on the shoulders of Singletary. The Bills obviously believe in Allen as an elite NFL quarterback and they built their offensive line with preserving his health in mind.

As the third-ranked passing offense, the Bills offensive line was blitzed a league leading 254 times. Yet Allen was given the luxury of protection with 2.6 seconds of clean pocket time (T-1st) and was only sacked 26 times (24th) and hit 47 times (20th).  For an offensive line that was called upon the most to protect its quarterback in 2020, the Bills’ line certainly delivered. This allowed Allen to have a career year with 4,544 yards passing and 45 total touchdowns.

That same offensive line play, however, did not happen for the running game. The Bills struggled to 20th in the NFL with 1,168 yards rushing and Allen put up 421 of those himself. 

So was Singletary’s lack of production in 2020 a reason for a running back to lose his job? Not necessarily, but it does point to a need to try at least try something else. The Bills 2021 draft class included Spencer Brown (OT), Tommy Doyle (OT), and Jack Anderson (G) to help beef up the run blocking but the Bills surprisingly did not draft a running back. In fact, the Bills passed up on highly-touted North Carolina running back Javonte Williams, instead choosing to pick edge rusher Gregory Rousseau with their first round pick. So who now emerges as the Bills’ lead back to start the season?

It has to be Zack Moss. As a rookie in 2020, Moss was limited to 37% of the snap count but made good use of those. Moss appeared in 13 games, had 126 total touches for 576 yards and, more importantly, produced 5 touchdowns. That is a scoring rate of 4.0% per touch, much more productive than Singletary’s 1.6%. Moss ran hard, breaking 16 tackles and also playing a role in the receiving game with 14 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown.

Moss has proven that he deserves at least a shot at being the starter. Heading into the 2021 season head coach Sean McDermott may be saying all the right things to the media about his total confidence in the running game, but he better be game-planning with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll on how to utilize Moss as their lead back in 2021

Why Jonathan Taylor is the most indispensable Colt

By: Jason Ferris

When the Indianapolis Colts traded away their third round draft pick in 2021, and a conditional second-round pick in 2022, to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for quarterback Carson Wentz, the move was big news around the league. The retirement of previous starting quarterback Phillip Rivers, along with the departure of backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett, created an immediate need at the quarterback position. Combine that with the necessary divorce that followed an ugly year in Philadelphia, and Wentz happily packed his bags for Indianapolis. 

The move made total economic sense with the Colts inheriting a very quarterback-friendly contract.  The Colts will pay Wentz $20 million in 2021 while the Eagles will absorb a $33.8 million dollar dead cap hit for Wentz next year, the highest hit in NFL history. The deal nets the Colts an already established NFL quarterback on a team that is built to win now. Wentz, still only 28 years old, may still have some high-level quarterback play in him. But regardless of how much gas is left in Wentz’s tank, the Colts’ 2021 hopes will rest with the legs or running back Jonathan Taylor, not on the arm of the jettisoned quarterback.

Taylor’s rookie season with the Colts was a huge success. The second-round pick out of Wisconsin did not take long to establish himself as the RB1 in Indianapolis and after that, it was off to the races. In 15 games as a rookie, Taylor started 13 games. He carried the ball 232 times for 1169 yards and 11 touchdowns. Only Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans and Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings put up more yards on the ground than Taylor. In fact, Taylor’s yards/touch (5,5) was slightly better than both Henry (5.4) and Cook (5.4).

Delving deeper, Taylor had 268 touches for 1,448 total yards from scrimmage. His 12 touchdowns were good for T-4th in the league. He also led the Colts with 15 broken tackles and 479 yards after the catch. But perhaps the most impressive facet of Taylor’s year was his workload. Because of the Colts’ hesitation to immediately insert Taylor as the bell cow back, his usage early on in the season was sparse. In total, Taylor lined up for 511 (47%)  of the Colts’ offensive snaps while elite counterparts Henry and Cook lined up for 66% and 62% of their teams’ snaps respectively. Despite the large discrepancy in playing time, Taylor was still amongst the league leaders. 

The notion that Taylor is due to see his workload next season increase is not in doubt. As 2020 wore on, head coach Frank Reich began to value Taylor’s contribution more and more. By the last four games of the season, Taylor’s snap counts were 56%, 69%, 58%, and 82%. In the playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills, Taylor was on the field for 59% of his teams’ offensive snaps. Offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni began customizing plays for Taylor’s skill set and by season’s end, the Colts ranked 10th in the NFL in rushing attempts and 14th in yards/attempt. Those statistics look to only get better as Taylor’s role continues to increase.

With Phillip Rivers at the helm in 2020, the Colts were an impressive 11-5 and were a questionable officiating call from beating the Bills on the road in a close 27-24 loss. Rivers was ranked 12th in QBR with a 96.7 rating and he completed 68.2% of his passes. In short, his play was solid but not spectacular. That’s the role Wentz will need to play. Let the 10th ranked defense do their job, enjoy the protection from the stellar offensive line, make some timely throughs, and let Jonathan Taylor become the show. Next stop: 2021 NFL Playoffs.

Who will be the top rookie in the NFL?

By: Jason Ferris and Craig Olivier

Cut to the Chase

The 2021 NFL Draft featured several highly touted offensive prospects. Choosing which one to claim the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year title was a daunting task. This draft featured potential franchise QB’s as the first three picks, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence (Jacksonville Jaguars), Brigham Young’s Zach Wilson (New York Jets) and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance (San Francisco 49ers). Florida’s exceptional TE, Kyle Pitts, was drafted fourth overall by the Atlanta Falcons, making him the highest drafted player at that position in NFL history. I have no doubt that these young talents will have a significant impact on their respective teams this season and beyond.

With that said, the player I believe will make the biggest splash this year was selected fifth overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, LSU’s WR Ja’Marr Chase. Despite opting not to play in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns (or more likely his agent’s advice), Chase was the consensus No. 1 WR in this year’s draft. A top draft evaluator described Chase as the “Best Wide receiver prospect since Julio Jones.”[1]

The 20 year-old Louisiana native was rated among the top 20 receiver prospects nationally coming out of high school. As a freshman at LSU in 2018, Chase started seven of 13 games, catching 23 passes for 313 yards, with three touchdowns. His coming-out party came the following year, as Chase led the FBS and set SEC records with 1,780 receiving yards and 20 receiving touchdowns in 14 starts. He won the 2019 Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver and helped LSU win the national title, hauling in nine receptions for 221 years and two touchdowns in the championship game against Clemson.

Chase has explosive speed and big play capability, with eight touchdowns of 50-plus yards in 2019. Perhaps his most prominent attribute is his ability to bully cornerbacks. He is quick enough off the line of scrimmage to create the necessary separation to use his instinctive body positioning abilities, to box out defenders and make contested catches. With a well-built lower body and his recognized dedication in the weight room, Chase should continue bullying cornerbacks at the NFL level. Chase is also known as a ‘ball magnet with sticky hands’, with the ability to make his hands catch-ready instantly.

Chase should experience immediate success at the NFL level, as he is reunited with his QB at LSU, Joe Burrow, who was selected first overall by the Bengals in last year’s draft. He should fit in immediately into the Bengals’ offense, as they utilize many of the same schemes Burrow and Chase employed at LSU. Chase has also previously played against at least 10 cornerbacks currently in the NFL, including Cowboys CB, Trevon Diggs, who Chase torched for a long touchdown in a 2019 LSU showdown against Alabama.

While there have been many top WR draft picks who failed to live up to expectations in the NFL, (I’m talking about you David Terrell, Charles Rogers and Justin Blackmon, to name a few), Chase appears to possess the talent and desire to succeed at the professional level. While the Bengals have never won a Superbowl and have often been mired in mediocrity since joining the NFL in 1968, adding the 2021 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is an excellent start on the path do redemption. Jim Nantz announcing “Burrows to Chase for the touchdown” should be music to the ears of Bengals fans for many years to come.


[1] https://www.rotoballer.com/player-news/jamarr-chase-the-top-receiving-prospect/858750

Watch out for the MIKE

“If it’s Dallas, I’m crying.”

Micah Parsons wasn’t talking to anybody in particular when he uttered this. In a tense room full of family and friends, Parsons’ lifelong dream of playing in the NFL, and for the Cowboys no less, was willing itself right through him on national television. And when Parsons’ phone finally rang, he did as he said he would do. When Jerry Jones told Parsons that he was turning in his card, Parsons wept.

As a freshman at Penn St, Parsons was switched from defensive end to middle linebacker (MIKE) by coach James Franklin. And even though he only started one game for the Nittany Lions, Parsons led the team in tackles with 82. His incredible ability to adapt, to change gears and learn a whole new role, while still performing at the highest of levels, is why Parsons will be crowned the NFL’s Rookie Defensive Player of the Year in 2021. 

There is this play from the Ohio St. game back in 2019. Big 10 rivalry game with lots of implications. You can Google it for yourself. The game is still in reach for the Nittany Lions. The ball is snapped and Parsons engages an offensive lineman. J.K. Dobbins is handed the ball. Parsons has almost powered past the lineman, so Dobbins starts to cut it back to the right. The lineman, obviously realizing the battle is lost, grabs the charging linebacker out of desperation. Parsons, being mugged and now twisted, begins reaching for Dobbins. While being dragged to the ground, and with just the use of his right arm and hand, Parsons slams down on the ball and strips it from Dobbins causing a turnover. The play never ended up being a factor in the loss for the Nittany Lions, but it was a factor for Parsons’ highlight reel. It showed just how fast, powerful, and determined he was. 

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Parsons’ game is his production. He is simply a machine on the field. After leading the team in tackles as a freshman, he repeated that feat as a sophomore. Parsons tallied 109 tackles, 14 of them for a loss, with five sacks and five turnovers. The middle linebacker with extraordinary physical talent and football IQ, became the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year as well as a consensus All-American. Parsons finished his collegiate career as the 2019 Cotton Bowl Classic defensive most valuable player with 14 tackles and two forced fumbles. He opted out of the 2020 season due to Covid-19 concerns, but his draft ticket was already punched. 

An exercise that NFL experts like to engage in with rookies is trying to identify professional comparisons. I must admit that I too enjoy this. For Parsons’, I chose Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen as a comparison. Both are fast, strong, and smart. As a rookie with the Ravens, Queen excelled as a playmaker on defense. He tallied 106 tackles, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one interception, and one touchdown. In short, Queen was a rookie in name only. This is the exact role that Parsons will take on as a Cowboy. With his 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame, combined with a freakish 4.39 40 speed, Parsons’ will be the Cowboys’ playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. In a division that features running backs Saquon Barkley, Antonio Gibson, and Miles Sanders, Parsons’ pedigree will not only be put to the test, it will be validated with the NFL defensive Rookie of the Year award in 2021. 

Top 5 CBs in the NFL: Who is number one?

Who is the best corner in the NFL?

By: Jason Ferris

Contrary to popular belief, some of the most elite athletes in the NFL do not play on the offensive side of the ball. Sure players like Patrick Mahomes and DeAndre Hopkins showcase their athletic prowess weekly, but what about the silent assassins that are paid to shut them down? NFL cornerbacks are not just failed wide receivers. They are highly skilled technicians with a specific skill set that often gets overlooked. 

To support my rankings, I will of course be using statistics. The funny thing about stats, though, is that they can be twisted and shaped to fit pretty much any narrative. For example, if a cornerback is giving up a 95% completion rate to opposing quarterbacks, you probably would not be impressed with that stat. However, if I further stated that this cornerback was only being targeted twice per game, then it would not surprise you that his NFL team is paying him $20 million a year to do his thing.  The key to using stats effectively is to utilize a blend of them to ensure balance and accuracy in the evaluation. 

So what measurables are the best and most accurate? The defensive statistic that I have seen most often used when discussing cornerbacks is average yards given up per game. So I’ll start with that one. But I am also going to sprinkle an opponent quarterback’s completion percentage when targeting the specific cornerback as well as the quarterback’s rating (QBR) in those specific targeted throws. The last metric I am going to use is a combination of the ‘eye test’ with play-making ability. Here I will be looking at the specific cornerback’s totals in these categories: interceptions, passes defended, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, safeties, tackles. This last category not only allows for big play capabilities, in a roundabout way it measures total amount of playing time. Now what I have come up with is not a perfect mix of measurables by any means but at the very least, it provides a starting point for an intelligent discussion about who is the NFL’s best cornerback. Here is the list:

5. J.C. Jackson, New England Patriots

So here we are. I knew this was going to be a controversial pick the moment a buddy of mine told me that I had spelled Stephon Gilmore incorrectly. All eyerolls aside, and before you start hammering away on your keyboard there, hear me out. How Gilmore got a Pro Bowl nod over Jackson is beyond me. In his third season in the league, Jackson outperformed Gilmore by a wide margin. In 11 games, Jackson 14 passes defended, 9 interceptions, and 3 fumble recoveries. Gilmore managed 3, 1, and 1 respectively. Although Gilmore’s season was ended by injury, it seems as though Gilmore got elected to his fourth Pro-Bowl more out of reputation than actual performance.

In terms of our other metrics, Jackson crushed those as well. In terms of yards allowed per game, Jackson gave up a very respectable 43.2 yards allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete only 59.0% of their passes on 83 targets. The league average for quarterback completion percentage in 2020 was 65.2%. In terms of quarterback rating, Jackson limited opposing QBs to an exceptional 66.5, much lower than the NFL average of 93.6. After learning from the King for the past three years, the 25-year-old, undrafted as a rookie, has reached the upper echelon of the NFL’s elite cornerbacks.

4. Marlon Humphrey, Baltimore Ravens

When I think of the Baltimore Ravens, I think of a team that plays smash-mouth football on both sides of the ball. The stellar defense has always been a trademark of this team and this again proved true in 2020 as the Ravens were ranking #2 in overall defense. And with his second Pro-Bowl award in as many years, Marlon Humphrey is quickly making his way up the list of NFL’s best corner.

Humphrey was the most targeted cornerback on this list. Opposing quarterbacks took their shots Humphrey’s way a total of 106 times in 2020, completing 61.3% of their passes. That translated into a below-average QBR of 84.3 and 40.7 yards per game allowed. Where Humprey ruled them all, however, was in playmaking ability. Humphrey had 82 tackles, 11 passes defended, produced a league-high 8 forced fumbles, had 2.5 sacks, 1 interception, and scored on a safety. There is definitely a dynamic duo in the Ravens’ defensive backfield but it’s Humphrey, not Peters, that makes the list.

3. Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers

At times, the Green Bay Packers’ run defense looked lost. Yet somehow, the Mike Pettine’s squad managed to claw its way up to 13th in total defense in 2020. A huge part of that was the Pro-Bowl calibre play of third year cornerback Jaire Alexander.

Alexander was dominant. Quarterbacks tried their luck his way 80 times in 2020 and Alexander shut it down for an astonishing 25 yards per game allowed. That was second only to Jalen Ramsey of the Los Angeles Rams. He also allowed a stingy 51.3% completion rate holding quarterbacks to a rating of 67.4. This all on a 13-3 team that saw lots of teams try and claw their way back late in games passing the ball. Want some icing on the cake? Alexander also had 13 passes defended, 51 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, and both a sack and a safety. It is safe to say he did it all.

2. Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams

When the Los Angeles Rams pried Jalen Ramsey away from the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019, they knew that they were getting the league’s most dominant shutdown corner. The 26-year-old was selected to his fourth Pro-Bowl and second First-Team All-Pro in 2020. Ramsey takes care of his business year in and year out and was a huge part in helping the Los Angeles Rams become the NFL’s best defensive unit in 2020. 

Quarterbacks did their very best to avoid Ramsey’s side of the field in 2020. He saw the lowest target volume of any of the corners on this list. Ramsey allowed a meager 50.7% completion rate on 71 targets. Opposing quarterbacks combined for a poor 68.1 QBR against Ramsey,  who gave up the fewest touchdowns on the list with two. His 23 yards per game allowed were the second-fewest in the league. 

In terms of big plays, Ramsey was there when called upon. He made 44 tackles, defended 9 passes, had 1 interception, and basically shut down an entire defensive side of the field for the Rams. There is nothing that Ramsey cannot do at the position and that will be evident one day when he is awarded his gold jacket in Canton, Ohio. 

1. Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins

In 2018, Xavien Howard led the NFL with 7 interceptions and 12 passes defended on his way to his first Pro-Bowl. A knee injury in 2019 limited Howard to a disappointing 5 games played with not really much to talk about. But after some extensive rehabbing, Howard set his sights on getting back his crown as the league’s most dominant cornerback.

NFL quarterbacks definitely took their shots at Howard during the 2020 season but with little success. When targeting Howard, quarterbacks completed an abysmal 51.5% of their passes in 101 attempts. That led to a 48.3 QBR, way below the league average. And considering all the action that went Howard’s way, his 44.9 yards per game allowed is commendable. 

Howard was king of the big plays in 2020. His 10 interceptions and 20 passes defended lead the league, and he added 51 tackles and a forced fumble. The 27-year-old was named to his second Pro-Bowl and first First-Team All-Pro. Howard has now tallied 22 interceptions, 191 tackles, and 55 passes defended in just 56 games. We won’t say Canton yet, but Howard, right now, is the best shutdown corner in the game.

Why DeAndre Hopkins can win OPOY: time for nuk is now

By: Jason Ferris

The AP’s NFL Offensive Player of the Year award is an illustrious one rich in history and lore. Since it’s inception in 1972, the award has been handed out forty-nine times, with Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans being the most recent recipient. 

Scrolling through the list of past winners conjures up fond memories of dynasties such as Bill Walsh’s West Coast 49er teams and Marshall Faulk’s Greatest Show on Turf. But through all of the years of record-breaking performances and iconic moments, only two wide receivers have ever earned the coveted Offensive Player of the Year award: San Francisco’s Jerry Rice (1987 and 1993) and New Orleans Saints’ Michael Thomas (2019). That’s it. That’s the list. No Randy Moss. No Calvin Johnson. No, Michael Irvin.

It’s not hard to see that quarterbacks and running backs truly are the chosen ones when it comes to NFL awards. They are the cover boys who drive for the show while the rest putt for the proverbial dough.

But with all of the incredibly talented wide receivers that have entered the league in the past few years, not to mention this year’s sizzling incoming crop, it is only a matter of time before another wide receiver claims the title of NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year. Question is, who will it be? DeAndre Hopkins. Sounds like a future Jeopardy answer that Aaron Rodgers might be giving and it should be. Hopkins is as elite a wide receiver as there is in the league today and oh, by the way, his quarterback is just about to enter his prime.

DeAndre Hopkins has been nominated for the OPOY before and he last finished runner up in 2018 to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and his ridiculous 52 total touchdowns. He is a highlight waiting to happen on every snap and his time has come. Here are the reasons why Arizona’s DeAndre Hopkins will be crowned the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2021:

The Stats

In the world of sports, stats are important – Really important. Ever try to frame a house without screws? Well in sports, stats are those screws.

Hopkins’ 2020 season was exceptional for most but average for him. He posted 115 catches for 1407 yards and 6 touchdowns. Statistically, it was his fourth-best season in his eight-year career thus far.  He is a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time First-Team All-Pro. In his last six seasons, DeAndre Hopkins has been in the top 5 in receiving yards four times and top 3 in receptions in each of the last three years. He has posted 1,100 yards or more six times and soared over 1,500 twice.  Hopkins has the pedigree to win the OPOY award, of that there is no doubt. But had Derrick Henry not had the monster 2027 yard and 17 touchdown season, would DeAndre Hopkins have been considered for the award last year? Probably not.

Looking back at the past wide receiver winners of the OPOY award tells a story. In order to even be considered for the award, wide receivers have to go well beyond what is considered a ‘great’ season for their position. For example, when Michael Thomas won it in 2019, he posted 149 catches for 1724 yards, and 9 touchdowns. In 1987, Jerry Rice won the award after a season in which he scored 22 times. Both are astronomical in their own right but there have been other performances worthy of the award throughout the years.

The moral of the story is that if you are a wide receiver looking to take home the OPOY, be prepared to have to put up historical numbers in order to be considered. Otherwise, the award is going to the best quarterback or running back that year. Plain and simple. In order for Hopkins to take the hardware home next season, he is going to have to crush his career bests. And he will.

The Past

The Arizona Cardinals finished a blah 8-8 in 2020, good for third in the division and an early tee time rather than a playoff game. In a division that was there for the taking, the 2020 season was a disappointment. Losses to the lowly Dolphins, Patriots, and Lions, combined with two crucial losses to the division rival Rams summed up the 2020 season for the Cardinals. 

So for a team that scored 410 points (good for 13th in the league) and was 12th in total defense, why did that not translate into more wins? What went wrong? The answer is quite simple. Kyler Murray. Not his 67.2% completion (up from 64.4% in 2019), not his QB rating of 94.3 (up from 87.4 in 2019), nor was it his 26 TDs (up from 20 TDs in 2019). No statistically, Murray had an excellent sophomore year. He definitely improved over his rookie season. The problem with Murray in 2020 was that he was always on the run.

NFL teams took note of Kyler Murray’s impressive rookie season. So much so that the universal consensus amongst defensive coordinators was to turn up the heat on Murray. Teams dialed up a total of 156 blitzes against Murray in 2020, creating a pocket where he was pressured 16.7% of the time. Even though that was not the most in the league, it was enough to send Murray scrambling 56 times on broken plays. Having his quarterback rush 133 times for 819 yards (2nd on the team) pretty much drained the life out of DeAndre’s OPOY aspirations.  

The Future

It does not take a genius to see that Kyler Murray, and DeAndre Hopkins indirectly, could benefit from a little more time to execute timing and routes. The re-signing of Kelvin Beachum and Max Garcia was a good start but more line work needs to be done. The upcoming draft has Arizona picking at #16 and #49 in the first two rounds and although running back is a definite need, an offensive lineman should be gracing their draft board in the first round. OT Alex Leatherwood (Alabama) or OT Jackson Carman (Clemson) would look great in Cardinal red. 

Kliff Kingsbury also needs to ramp up Hopkins’s involvement for maximum production. DeAndre Hopkins lined up for only 92% of Arizona’s offensive plays last year. To give that stat some perspective, during Hopkin’s most productive years in 2015 and 2018, he was on the field for 97% and 99% of his teams’ snaps respectively. Now maybe the NFL’s version of ‘load management’ for it’s players is to monitor and manage a player’s snap count, but DeAndre Hopkins obviously thrives as a workhorse and benefits from the reps. Kliff if you are reading this, get Hopkins on the field more.

DeAndre Hopkins has the best chance of any wide receiver out there to win the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year award next season. Besides his obvious elite talent and very favorable playing situation with Kyler Murray, Hopkins personifies durability. In eight seasons (plus 6 playoff games), he has only missed a game twice. That is 132 out of 134 games for those of you trying to do the calculation. This, more than any other X factor, separates Hopkins from the rest. This will be the year that DeAndre putts for the dough and steals the show.

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