CLEMSON -- When throwing to an average receiver, a quarterback sometimes needs perfect accuracy, the ability to hit a bull's-eye on the dart board. When throwing to DeAndre Hopkins, a quarterback simply needs to hit the board.
Hardcore football types refer to a receiver's ability to go outside his frame to grab a pass as a catch radius. Think of the radius as an imaginary circular target attached to each receiver. Softer hands, larger frames and 40-inch vertical leaps result in wider radiuses and greater margin for error.
Hopkins' hands -- requiring XXXL receiver gloves -- his 40-inch vertical leap and the freshman's natural high-point ability equates to an elite catch radius, according to Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier.
"He's a margin-of-error guy," Napier said. "A little bit high, a little bit low
(with a throw) … you don't have to be perfect. You hear guys talk about drafting those big split ends, West Coast receivers, that's what they are talking about: those big-body, margin-of-error guys. Jacoby Ford's margin of error wasn't big, it was pretty small, but most of the time he's creating separation.
"(Hopkins) has the ability to make you right when you are a little bit wrong."
The 6-2 freshman's catch radius figures to be key going forward for Clemson.
Napier wants more balance on offense, wanting defensive coordinators to have doubt when loading the box against Clemson's potent run game. But with Boston College ranking fourth in rush defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision, with the Eagles again featuring stout defensive tackles and run-blitzing linebackers, Clemson might have to be more proficient throwing the ball Saturday.
If Clemson opens up the passing game, expect quarterback Kyle Parker to lock in on his new favorite target, Hopkins. When throwing to Hopkins this year, QBs have an efficiency rating of 136.64. When targeting another receiver, the rating falls to 116.7.
"I just have to get it close," Parker said of throwing to Hopkins. "It makes my job easier."
The larger the catching radius, the greater the trust.
For an example, see the true freshman's one-handed grab against Georgia Tech, what Hopkins calls the best catch of his career. On a third-down fade route, Parker lofted a pass to a well-covered Hopkins, giving him a jump-ball opportunity.
How much trust does Parker have in Hopkins? See third down.
The catch was also significant because Parker trusts Hopkins on third down. Parker has targeted Hopkins 18 times since Miami, and 11 of those targets have come on third down.
On the season, Hopkins has caught 17 of 26 passes thrown his way, dropping just one ball.
"Right now, I guess Kyle feels like I'm that guy," he said.
Hopkins is still learning on the job. Clemson hopes Hopkins' learning arc is shallow.
"I think the biggest thing he has to improve on is just his own understanding, the coverage, knowing where people are going to be," Parker said. "Once he does that, it will be scary."
Against Boston College, Hopkins will see more umbrella coverage like he saw against North Carolina. But the Eagles blitz occasionally, leaving favorable one-on-one opportunities. And it those matchups when Parker likes to target Hopkins, who offers greater margin for error and a chance to open up the passing game.
Check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).
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