CLEMSON — From the way DeAndre Hopkins performed in Saturday’s spring game, the sure-handed receiver appears to be discontented wearing the label of possession receiver, or with playing the role of complementary sidekick to teammate Sammy Watkins.
A stronger, faster, more detailed Hopkins recorded team bests of seven catches and 120 yards, including a touchdown, in the spring game at Memorial Stadium. While Hopkins’ White team lost, 23-20, the rising junior offered evidence Clemson can expect to enjoy another impact receiver to threaten defenses with this fall.
As a whole, the Tigers’ receiving corps appeared more explosive and polished Saturday than a year ago but it was Hopkins who was the most productive player on the field as he was for the majority of spring practice. “He was clearly the MVP of our team this spring,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s the first offseason he’s ever had — even last year he was playing basketball — where’s been committed to one sport. What’s happened now is all that great talent, athleticism, ability to run and ball skills, now he has added the physical strength to go with it. As he’s gotten stronger his confidence has shot through the roof.”
While Hopkins has added nearly 20 pounds of muscle to bulk up his 6-foot-1 size to 212 pounds, the receiver nicknamed Nuke was pushed and motivated by Watkins’ performance on the field last year, and his rare worth ethic and attention to detail off of it.
“Sammy Watkins made Nuke a better player,” Swinney said. “(Hopkins) is a very prideful young man. When you have a guy who walks in off the street (Watkins) and plays at the level he plays at, everyone steps their games up.”
Said Hopkins of his relationship with Watkins: “If Sammy makes a good play I feel like I have to make a good play.”
Because of maturation and competition, the entire receiving corps is improved.
Swinney said last year’s talent freshmen receivers turning sophomores, not including Watkins, have “closed the gap” with the starters.
While offensive coordinator Chad Morris still called sophomore Martavis Bryant “very, very inconsistent” Morris also notes Bryant’s combination of 6-4 size, soft hands and blazing speed is a considerable package of talent. Bryant out-leaped cornerback Martin Jenkins in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown Saturday.
Charone Peake was rated as a five-star talent by some recruiting services last year and had five catches for 75 yards.
Morris called Adam Humphries a playmaker who will present mismatches for defenses.
And of course Sammy Watkins, was Sammy Watkins, catching six passes for 66 yards.
But no receiver has been as productive, more consistent this spring than Hopkins.
After a five-catch, 100-yard first quarter quarterback Tajh Boyd told Hopkins he felt he had to spread the ball around more, even though Hopkins was often getting open at will. When he was covered he caught a contested pass for a touchdown working against Darius Robinson.
Said Boyd of Hopkins: “People are going to be surprised how he plays this year. It will be something serious.”