DeAndre Hopkins excelled in an up-tempo spread offense at Clemson. Now, he will see if he can shine in the West Coast offense used by Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak.
Hopkins on Thursday night was selected by the Texans with the 27th pick in the NFL draft. As expected, he was the only player connected to the state of South Carolina picked Thursday.
Several others could get drafted tonight, in the second and third rounds, including USC free safety D.J. Swearinger and Clemson running back Andre Ellington.
But for Thursday, the spotlight belonged to Hopkins, who compiled gaudy statistics at Clemson, while playing in a system that differs from the one he now must learn.
“The biggest question I have on Hopkins is: Does this style of offense translate to the NFL?” said former NFL coach Jon Gruden, on ESPN’s broadcast of the draft.
In Houston, Hopkins gets to play alongside Andre Johnson, one of the NFL’s best receivers in recent years. Johnson had 112 catches last season for 1,598 yards and four touchdowns. The Texans’ No. 2 wide receiver was 31-year-old Kevin Walter (41 catches, 518 yards, two touchdowns). The team released him last month, after seven seasons.
“I’ve been hearing the buzz that Andre Johnson needed another receiver on the other side of him,” Hopkins said on a teleconference with Houston reporters. “When I heard him say that, I was like, man, I’m that guy.”
Hopkins’ position coach in Houston, Larry Kirksey, is familiar with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. Kirksey was an assistant at Alabama when Swinney played there. Then they coached together in 1993, when Swinney was a first-year graduate assistant at his alma mater.
Hopkins going to the Texans wasn’t a surprise. Four mock drafts predicted the pick, including two from CBS Sports, one from the NFL Network and one from The Washington Post.
Hopkins was the second receiver selected, behind West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, who went eighth to the St. Louis Rams. At February’s NFL combine, Hopkins didn’t help his stock by running the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds. (The 15th-best time for receivers was 4.5.) He tied for 10th among receivers with a 36-inch vertical jump. But at his pro day last month, Hopkins ran the 40 in 4.41 and 4.46 seconds, putting himself in contention for the first round.
Even as a late first-rounder, he will make lots of money on his first NFL contract. The 27th player drafted last year, offensive guard Kevin Zeitler, got a four-year contract from the Cincinnati Bengals that was reportedly worth $7.544 million, including a $3.926 million signing bonus. All told, about $6.1 million of the contract is reportedly guaranteed.
Hopkins is the 25th Clemson player to go in the first 27 picks, and the fifth since 1999, joining defensive end Gaines Adams (fourth in 2007), running back C.J. Spiller (ninth in 2010), receiver Rod Gardner (15th in 2001) and cornerback Tye Hill (15th in 2006).
Hopkins, who is 6-1 and 214 pounds, came to Clemson in 2010 from Daniel High, which is located just five miles from Memorial Stadium. In the three years before he turned pro early, he made good on his ranking as the No. 12 receiver in the Class of 2010, according to Rivals. He caught 206 passes in his career for 3,020 yards and 27 touchdowns. He holds the school records for yards and touchdowns, is second in catches and also ranks first with 12 100-yard games.
During his final two seasons, Hopkins thrived in offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ spread system. His catches jumped from 51 in 2010 to 71 and 82 in 2011 and 2012, when he had the best receiving year in program history. His 18 touchdown catches in 2012 ranked second nationally and were an Atlantic Coast Conference record. He his 1,405 yards last season also were the most in Clemson history.
He capped his career with a masterful performance in Clemson’s 25-24 win over LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl – 13 catches for 191 yards and two touchdowns, after being limited to one and two catches in his previous two games, against South Carolina and North Carolina State.
In the bowl game, on the drive that ended with the game-winning field goal as time expired, Hopkins made three catches for 46 yards, including a 26-yarder on fourth down and 16 from the Tigers’ 14-yard line. The sliding grab on a perfect throw from Tajh Boyd is one of the most important plays in school history, as it sustained the Tigers’ hopes of finishing 11-2, tied for the second-most wins in school history, and the most since the 12-0 national title season of 1981.
Hopkins’ 13 catches that night tied his own school record. He set it in last season’s opener against Auburn, which, like the bowl, was held in the Georgia Dome. From start to finish last year, Clemson fans serenaded him by shouting a stretched version of his childhood nickname, Nuk, which is pronounced “nuke” and stems from his preference for NUK pacifiers as a baby.
A possible issue for Hopkins cropped up after reports surfaced that his hotel room at the combine was trashed. Hopkins denied being involved, and Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said the team looked into what happened “enough to know it was not an issue,” Dennison told Houston reporters. Hopkins said the team never even asked him about it.