As we search for someone to replace the estimable Travis Sawchik as our Clemson reporter, yours truly had NFL draft duty Thursday night, when Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins went 27th to Houston. So here are some words about that. Coverage will continue throughout the weekend, for USC and Clemson players. Rounds 2 and 3 are Friday night, and the draft concludes Saturday with the fourth through seventh rounds. OK, on with the material about Hopkins from Thursday …
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 Friday, in the second and third rounds, including USC free safety D.J. Swearinger and Clemson running back Andre Ellington.
Three safeties were picked Thursday: Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro, LSU’s Eric Reid and Florida’s Matt Elam. Florida International’s Johnathan Cyprien was projected to go ahead of Swearinger. But if Cyprien goes early Friday, look for Swearinger to perhaps come off the board soon thereafter.
No running backs were picked in the first round of the draft. Ellington is rated as the No. 6 running back in the draft, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
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 wide receiver on the other side of him,” Hopkins said on a teleconference with Houston reporters. “When he said that, I was like, ‘I’m that guy. I can help this team win a championship.’”
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 from 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 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 an elongated version of his childhood nickname, Nuk, which is pronounced “nuke” and stems from his preference for NUK pacifiers as a baby.
Hopkins encountered a possible issue for his shiny reputation when reports surfaced that his hotel room at the combine was trashed so badly that feces were smeared on the walls. His roommate was Rutgers receiver Mark Harrison.
Hopkins has vehemently denied being involved. Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison told Houston reporters that the team looked into the matter “enough to know it was not an issue.” Hopkins said the team never even asked him about it, because “they knew I didn’t have anything to do with it. So I didn’t hear a call from too many teams about it because it was cleared two months ago.”
Some mock drafts projected other receivers, including Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson, being picked ahead of Hopkins. But Dennison wanted Hopkins, and was happy to see nobody else took him before the Texans’ spot arrived.
“I was just holding my breath,” Dennison said. “It’s a good group (of wide receivers in this draft), but he was the one that I would prefer that we had.”
A LOOK AT SOUTH CAROLINA AND CLEMSON’S REMAINING DRAFT PROSPECTS …
** SOUTH CAROLINA
FS D.J. Swearinger, Round 2-3
WR Ace Sanders, Round 4
RB Marcus Lattimore, Round 4-5
OLB DeVonte Holloman, Round 4-5
DE Devin Taylor, Round 6-7
TE Justice Cunningham, Round 7 or free agent
C T.J. Johnson, Round 7 or free agent
RB Andre Ellington, Round 3
DE Malliciah Goodman, Round 5
FS Rashard Hall, Round 7 or free agent
C Dalton Freeman, Round 7 or free agent
WR Jaron Brown, Round 7 or free agent
(Projections from NFLDraftScout.com.)
Here are some more things that Houston Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison had to say Thursday about Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, in a teleconference with Houston reporters …
“He’s a very physical receiver. He’s very strong, has very good ball skills. He catches the ball naturally. He has good run after catch, just a complete player for us.
“We had (receivers coach) Larry (Kirksey) check it out (the alleged hotel room trashing incident), and of course, the security people. We feel real comfortable about the kid and his background and everything that he’s done at Clemson. It has all been very, very positive.
“Especially last year, his route content was very large. He was productive, but he got better every year. Obviously last year was his best year. The thing, to us, that stuck out in our minds watching him, and the more you watched him, was he is very competitive. He’ll catch the ball in a crowd. It doesn’t matter to him. He can go up and get the ball. He competes and wears the DBs out. He’s physical and that’s what translates and that’s what we believe that we carry week-to-week; that’s what we ask our guys to do, to compete. He really fits that mold for us.
“He fits in with the group and we know he’ll compete. He’ll go out there with the rest of our guys and compete and get his chance to take his snaps and get his balls. He beat man coverage just by being physical. He has great length and great ball skills. He plays fast, has explosion in his routes. I think he’ll do a great job for us
“It didn’t look like anything was too big for him. When you look at his bowl game performance (last year), when the stage got bigger, he just kept playing bigger and bigger.
“I had a guy that was texting me Roddy White from Atlanta (as a comparison), thought he played a lot like him. To me, he goes out there and ‘I want the ball’ and he’s going to catch the ball when it gets in his zip code. That’s the thing that I like about him.
“He’s fast enough to win. If it’s a contested ball, we feel like he’s going to come down with it. His length is great, long arms. He can be covered and still catch the ball.
“He’s a big man. Obviously you guys know that he played basketball early on at Clemson which is a pretty good feat also. He’s gained some weight and so now he’s at 214. When DBs went up to press him, whether it be run or pass, they had a problem. That’s what I saw. They were getting thrown around and he did a really nice job. You can see his strength on film.”
And here are the highlights of Hopkins’ teleconference with Houston scribes …
“It’s going to be an honor (playing with Andre Johnson). It’s going to be great learning from a veteran.”
When asked if he felt like he had a chance to start, he said, “Yeah, without a doubt I feel like I do.”
Being physical, he said, is “natural to me, I feel like. I played defense in high school. When the ball is in the air I feel like it’s mine. No matter who it is or the situation, I feel like I have to come down with the ball or at least knock it away. I’m always trying to get a hand on the ball, and I have a pretty good vertical. I’m able to get the ball at the high point.
“I don’t really feel like I compare to anybody. I feel like I’m a unique player. I feel like I’m my own. I feel like I have some different things to bring.
“I feel like we (Hopkins and Johnson) have the same mentality. When the ball is in the air, it’s ours. He plays with a great mentality, a competitive side that everybody should play with. He’s a guy that I’ve looked up to since he’s been in the NFL.”