Frelund: DeAndre Hopkins drew attention in 1st year with Cardinals

Feb 26, 2021, 10:33 AM | Updated: 10:40 am

DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Arizona Cardinals makes a 35 yard reception during the second quarter ag...

DeAndre Hopkins #10 of the Arizona Cardinals makes a 35 yard reception during the second quarter against Kevon Seymour #41 of the Philadelphia Eagles at State Farm Stadium on December 20, 2020 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

DeAndre Hopkins mattered when he got the ball in his first season with the Arizona Cardinals. And he got the ball a lot.

His 1,407 yards and 115 receptions, the latter of which was tied for second-most in the NFL, say it all about how much quarterback Kyler Murray leaned on him in 2020.

What about the times when the ball didn’t go Hopkins’ way?

NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund has an answer in her run-down of every team’s wide receiver position group.

Hopkins’ off-ball metric (which measures his ability to draw elite defensive coverage, thus creating better opportunities for other pass-catchers) ranked as the second-best in the NFL. He also helped Arizona finish with the least drops in the league (seven), per Pro Football Focus.

That only leads to more questions, however.

If Hopkins drew attention when he didn’t have the ball, why didn’t the Cardinals appear to utilize numbers advantages elsewhere?

Maybe Murray relied too much on Hopkins when opportunities were elsewhere. Perhaps head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme called for it.

But on paper, maybe the most likely possibility is the other receivers didn’t produce.

Christian Kirk came in second with 621 receiving yards on 79 targets (48 catches) despite playing a career-high 14 games. Larry Fitzgerald recorded 409 yards on 72 targets (54 catches), and his future being up in the air only puts more pressure on the Cardinals developing 2019 draft picks Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson. That duo couldn’t respectively top the 300-receiving-yard mark in their second NFL season.

It didn’t help that Arizona led the NFL again by going with 10 personnel (four receivers) on 20% of their plays yet only got that meager production from wideouts.

Hopkins (160 targets) surely took opportunities away from the rest of them.

But there’s more to consider here. Tight end Dan Arnold had 438 yards on just 45 targets (31 catches), while running back Chase Edmonds had 67 targets (53 catches) for 402 yards.

They were involved in the receiving game, too, and that’s where the personnel grouping numbers fall into grey areas. At the least, there was diversity in terms of how Arizona attacked.

Looking ahead, there remain many potential avenues for upgrading the true wide receivers on the team. It’s good news the Cardinals already have their top receiver, and then it’s on to Fitzgerald’s free agency and potential retirement. That will dictate how their offseason goes.

A year ago, Frelund predicted 1.2 win shares added by Arizona acquiring Hopkins in exchange for running back David Johnson, a second-round pick and a swap of fourth-rounders.

Hopkins ended up out-reaching that expectation with 1.482 win shares added, according to Frelund’s latest numbers; a Hail Murray catch alone can account for a chunk of that, you could say.

Heading into the offseason, that productivity makes things easier for general manager Steve Keim. Writes Frelund of the upcoming offseason:

Finally, the trade spared the Cardinals from having to locate a WR1 in a year with increased uncertainty and decreased cap space, meaning they can create a WR acquisition strategy that reflects their needs and offensive play-calling strategy, without having to overpay.

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Frelund: DeAndre Hopkins drew attention in 1st year with Cardinals