February 26, 2024

Why DeAndre Hopkins should succeed for Titans while other great WRs have failed

In 2010, Randy Moss – one of the greatest receivers of all time – played for the Titans.

It was an eight game period to end the year. He posted just six receptions for 80 yards and no touchdowns for Tennessee. He retired after the season. (He returned for the 2012 season with the 49ers, then retired again, for good.)

Six years after Moss, the Titans signed another high-profile wideout: Andre Johnson, one of the best receivers of his generation who had Tennessee for decades with the divisional Texans. But his results on the field with the Titans were not much better than Moss’: nine catches, 85 yards, two touchdowns. After eight games, Johnson informed the franchise that he was retiring.

And just two years ago, the Titans traded for Julio Jones – one of the most dominant receivers in the NFL in the 2010s, a player who was supposed to help lift them into Super Bowl contention. But he played just 10 games for Tennessee in the 2021 season, posting career highs in receptions (31), receiving yards (434) and receiving touchdowns (1). He was cut after nine months with the team.

The Titans have failed many times to gamble on star receivers over their heads.

Why is 31-year-old DeAndre Hopkins, who signed a two-year contract with Tennessee worth $26 million plus incentives, going to play the opposite?

Start with his numbers.

A three-time first-team All-Pro selection, Hopkins remained one of the NFL’s most effective receivers in limited appearances with the Cardinals last season (nine games). His 79.7 yards-per-game receiving average ranked 10th in the NFL, higher than pass catchers like Travis Kelce, Terry McLaurin and DK Metcalf. Among the 42 receivers with at least 60 receptions last season, Hopkins was 18th in expected catch rate (66.7%), which quantifies the aggregate level of target series difficulty, according to Next Gen Stats.

Hopkins had just one drop on 95 targets last season, per ESPN Stats and Information, another example of his dependability. The five-time Pro Bowler missed eight games last season, but only two of those were due to injury – weeks 17 and 18 (knee). His latest performance gives him instant credibility as one of the Titans’ top two receivers alongside Treylon Burks.

Why DeAndre Hopkins chose Titans over Patriots

Why DeAndre Hopkins chose Titans over Patriots

When Moss played for the Titans, it was his 33-year-old season. He had already spent time with two other teams that year – the Patriots and Vikings – before being claimed off waivers by Tennessee.

When Johnson signed with the Titans, it was his 35-year-old season. He had already shown decline in recent years (936 receiving yards in 2014, 503 receiving yards in 2013).

And when Jones was traded to the Titans for his age-32 season, the nagging hamstring injuries that limited his availability had already shown up the previous year with the Falcons.

Hopkins may be out of his element, but his tape and circumstances are more exciting for Tennessee than the other bigs he brought in.

And that’s enough to justify the move.

“I’ve always loved to be hated and doubted but I respect him more,” Hopkins tweeted on Sunday. “Tit up!”

How will the Titans use Hopkins?

The Titans will certainly use Hopkins where he has been successful in his decade-plus in the NFL – on the left side of the formation and catching passes outside the numbers.

Through Week 16 last season, Hopkins was aligned to the left on 91.8% of snaps since 2020, the highest rate of any wide receiver on one side, according to Next Gen State. And from Weeks 7-15 in 2022, he was averaging a plus-4.3 reception outside of the numbers, second in the league in that span, per NGS. His ability near the sideline could be useful in rush situations before halftime and at the end of games, where time is precious in results that often come down to points.

Titans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly’s experience with Hopkins – Kelly was the Texans’ play caller from 2019-21, when the receiver was in Houston – also factors in the team’s favor.

Hopkins played 30.7% of his snaps from the slot — the second-highest rate of his career — with Kelly in 2019, one of three years Hopkins was named a first-team All-Pro. The following year, he played a career-high 9.2% of snaps out of the slot and 90.6% of snaps across the board, per PFF. It is an indication of the great change in the use of creativity that Kelly could use in 2023.

It’s about why Hopkins should be much more than a veteran receiver over his top receiver in Nashville.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked at The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was a Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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