Analytics say WR DeAndre Hopkins will give Cardinals big win boost

Mar 22, 2020, 7:45 AM

Clay Skipper and DeAndre Hopkins during GQ Sports Dinner Hosted By DeAndre Hopkins at Brickell City...

Clay Skipper and DeAndre Hopkins during GQ Sports Dinner Hosted By DeAndre Hopkins at Brickell City Centre on January 31, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for GQ Sports)

(Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for GQ Sports)

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury, quarterback Kyler Murray and Co. already helped the Arizona Cardinals’ offense leap from inept in 2018 to, at the least, average in 2019.

Football minds believe that the team’s trade for receiver DeAndre Hopkins will fundamentally change their offense once again in 2020.

Analytical models by Pro Football Focus and NFL Networks analytics expert Cynthia Frelund support such projections.

“I ran some preliminary calculations of how many wins DeAndre Hopkins would add with the current roster. Now, we don’t know the draft, there are a lot of things left to be decided, but as of right now, it was like 1.2 wins, which was ridiculous when you consider defensive ends often have numbers like that,” Frelund said Thursday when she joined Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta.

“You’re getting one of, if not the best wide receiver in the league — one of, if not the best route-runners. Talk about contested catches, talk about any area where the Cardinals were not super great last season: 45.3% was their red-zone touchdown rate last season, close to bottom of the league (29th of 32 teams). DeAndre Hopkins in the red zone, he may as well be a basketball player.”

Hopkins caught 12 red zone touchdowns over the past two years.

His presence should also direct attention away from the still-productive Larry Fitzgerald and third-year pro Christian Kirk.

PFF’s models show the Cardinals improving in Wins Above Replacement by 0.34, third-most in the NFL as of Friday morning and a league-best 8% improvement percentage.

The model behind the Improvement Index projects the numbers of snaps and grades per snap for each player in every facet. These models were trained on years of historical data, going back to 2006 for PFF grades and WAR. The model incorporates player- and team-level assumptions based on each player’s prior performance, team coaching tendencies, forecasted opponents, and championship odds.

Hopkins, PFF adds, was second to New Orleans Saints receiver Michael Thomas in total WAR among non-quarterbacks over the last three seasons. He accounts for 0.28 of Arizona’s WAR improvement.

The receiver will be an on-field game-changer. But Frelund suggests that Hopkins’ addition to the Cardinals also greatly benefits the team’s draft opportunities.

“I don’t think it eliminates the possibility (of Arizona picking a wide receiver),” she said. “The market has now changed. With the depth in this receiver class, at eight, you have so many ways to pivot and get more of a haul for less of a top pick — trading back potentially. I think you’ve created nothing but leverage.”

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