Dabo Swinney: Cardinals got a true game-changer in DeAndre Hopkins

Apr 24, 2020, 11:45 AM | Updated: 1:53 pm

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)...

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Ahead of the 2010 season, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was already sold on then-Tiger wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins as an elite ballplayer.

No, he’s not talking about the NFL version of the wideout — yet. The Clemson head coach is talking about the college version of Nuk.

Hopkins may have had to wait until 2013 to step onto an NFL field, but Swinney could see his potential early on. Hopkins had the intangibles of an NFL-caliber WR.

“He was our best receiver our freshmen year and he had a lot to learn,” Swinney told Doug & Wolf of Arizona Sports on Friday. “He was a long way away from being a great player. He was just one heck of a football guy and he just came in and literally by the end of the year he was the best receiver we had. He followed that up with a great sophomore year and then his junior year, he still has the record for touchdowns.”

In his three-year stint with the Tigers, Hopkins saw his production steadily improve season over season. His freshman campaign saw the wideout accumulate 637 yards and four touchdowns on 52 catches before Hopkins finished off his career at Clemson with an absolute monster of a season in 2012, catching 82 balls for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns in 13 games.

That type of production showed Swinney his receiver had some serious NFL potential.

“You throw it in his area code, he just catches it. It’s unbelievable,” Swinney said. “He’s the most acrobatic guy we had come out of here and what an unbelievable pro career he’s had. When he left here, his best football was in front of him because he was still growing and maturing and developing into what he could be.

“Unbelievable career with the Texans and to this day, the most competitive wideout we had. I mean, he’d claw your eyeballs out to catch the ball and loves to play.”

Hopkins is getting a taste of a new city in a long time after being traded this offseason. Gone is his rapport with Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and in the QB spot steps in second-year signal-caller Kyler Murray.

A new player in a new system can have its challenges, especially during the coronavirus outbreak that is restricting teams from offseason workouts. Everyone needs to be in sync for it to be a well-oiled machine.

Luckily for both Hopkins and Murray, Swinney sees the transition from Watson to K1 as anything but difficult for a player of Hopkins’ abilities.

As someone who has cashed in on extending plays by finding open space and using a high football IQ when the pocket collapses, Hopkins possesses another element for Murray’s arsenal.

“He and Kyler Murray are going to [have some fun] because Kyler can run around like forever,” Swinney said. “You sack him and then you don’t sack him and he runs around and runs around all over kinda like Deshaun, and a lot of Deshaun and Nuk’s big plays came off of extended time.

“You’ll see a lot of that with Kyler and Nuk, he’s just got incredible instincts for the game and if he touches it, he’s catching it. I don’t care if he gets a knee on it first, he’s going to come down with the ball more times than not. Y’all got a great one here.”

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