While some people will make the (wrong) argument that DeAndre Hopkins isn’t one of the best wide receivers in all the land, anyone who’s actually paid attention and has any valid knowledge of the NFL knows better.
Over the course of 7 seasons, D-Hop has started 110 games, caught 632 passes for 8602 yards, a 13.6 yard per catch average, gained 457 first downs, caught 54 touchdown passes and even thrown one.
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A) His catch radius is out of this world; B) he high-points the ball to win contested catches; and C) Deshaun Watson is nearly two years removed from his ACL injury, so the quarterback’s renewed mobility will allow him to extend plays and make life quite difficult for defensive backs attempting to plaster receivers. And that’s just the beginning. The 6-foot-1 wideout isn’t the fastest player on the field, but he’s mastered the art of body positioning and knows how and when to attack the ball. Not to mention, Hopkins just had the most receptions without a drop in a season (115) since Pro Football Focus started charting drops in 2007. With a freakish skill set and a talented, young QB, it feels like Hopkins is just getting started heading into Year 7.
Funny thing is, lately, Hopkins hasn’t been the most talked about, or the alleged “most feared” receiver on the Texans. Go figure.
That distinction has gone to human blur Will Fuller V, who is nearly unstoppable when he’s on the field and playing at 100%. During the 2016 NFL Combine, Fuller ran a 4.33 40-yard dash - it’s no wonder his nickname is “Flash.”
The downside is Fuller’s greatest ability - his availability - is sorely lacking. Over his 4 year career, Fuller has only participated in 42 of the potential 64 games, primarily due to chronic hamstring injuries. As is often the case, incredibly fast athletes can have shorter hamstrings than others, which gives them the added burst many don’t have - but with that comes the greater chance of hamstring injuries. I’ve never seen an MRI of Will Fuller’s hammy, but as an ex-sprinter, I’ve heard this from too many sources to discount it. At that point, Fuller needs to take extra care of his - which he may or may not be doing.
Either way, his status was the bona fide WR2 is in serious doubt. Particularly with the impending $10,162,000 paycheck he’s due this season. If he could stay healthy, paying Fuller this amount would be a no-brainer. Since he can’t, it’s quite possibly a cautionary tale waiting to happen.
Next in line we have Kenny Stills, often the footnote of the blockbuster “Laremy Tunsil for all the picks” trade that Bill O’Brien pulled off last pre-season.
Stills is a lethal target in and of himself, too. But for some reason, Houston only started him 5 times last year. In those 5 starts, Deshaun Watson targeted Stills 55 times, of which he caught 40 of them for 561 yards. Stills had a 14.0 yard per catch average (for comparison, Fuller had a 13.7 yard per catch average) and scored 4 touchdowns.
Behind Stills is a who’s who of names that would probably be solid WR2s or 3s on other teams, but standing in the shadow of DeAndre Hopkins means you need to step up your game to get noticed.
A few days ago, the water’s got muddier with a few tweets that went back and forth between D-Hop and former Clemson teammate Sammy Watkins:
On paper, this looks like it could be a match made in Heaven, and something that would give Deshaun Watson ALL the weapons he could ever need downfield. But, when you dig in, Watkins is just as injury prone as Will Fuller V.
In the 6 years Watson has been a pro baller, he’s started 73 of the possible 96 games, caught 284 of the 491 passes thrown his way, gained 202 first downs, scored 31 touchdowns and has a 14.9 yards per catch average.
Coming off a Super Bowl win with the Kansas City Chiefs, odds are some team will happily pay Watkins $10 million + per year to play for them - since KC is currently on the hook to pay him $21 million. But, would it be smart for Houston to be that team? That’s the $10 million question.
But, according to CBSSports, there’re wrinkles to Watkins:
Sammy Watkins has found a home with the Kansas City Chiefs, a franchise the former first-round pick doesn’t want to leave. Even though Watkins is the No. 2 wide receiver (and No. 3 option) in the offense, Watkins enjoys playing for Kansas City and head coach Andy Reid.
When push comes to shove, Watkins would prefer to stay in Kansas City. That decision will not be easy with the $21 million cap hit that is coming Watkins’s way for 2020, the final year of his contract.
The Chiefs will save $14 million in cap space if they cut Watkins, who has 52 catches for 673 yards and three touchdowns this season. Watkins will consider all options, but Kansas City is the franchise he wants to play for.
”I don’t want to say I will be (open to a pay cut). I don’t want to say I won’t,” Watkins told NFL.com. ”I just think I’m a special player. I think I deserve all the things I deserve. If I’m at home and thinking about it, if I have to do it to pay Pat (Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes), I maybe will. That’s a guy that we should pay, and he needs to get paid. But you never know, that’s a decision I’d have to go through.”
Watkins also suggested he would take a year off if the Chiefs won the Super Bowl, which would also save significant amount of cap space. Since Watkins has a year left on his deal, he could just return to the Chiefs with the same contract a year later. Then both sides could renegotiate a deal.
After Watkins and Fuller, the market might just have several solid options for Houston to explore.
With the desperate need for cornerback and edge rusher help, and the impending whale-sized contracts coming for Laremy Tunsil and Deshaun Watson, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Houston to sink $10-20 mil into a non-alpha wide out. But, (also) according to Spotrac, the market value on a top flight wide out is going to hover in the $20 mil range this season.
With that in mind, are the Texans better off paying Will Fuller V his $10.162 million and hoping strength and conditioning coach Brian Cushing can keep Fuller on the field for 16+ games? No matter how you slice it, there’s some riverboat gambling to be done here.
The possible best bet is for Houston to stand pat and draft a replacement for Fuller, hope Kenny Stills can follow in Lamar Miler’s footsteps as a former Dolphin turned Texan who has his best career years wearing battle red and give Fuller all the hamstring training humanly possible.
What do you think? If you were calling the shots down in the depths of NRG, how would you craft the wide receiver room for 2020? Give us your roster moves below.