DeAndre Hopkins Has All the Makings of Finishing as 2021's Top Fantasy Football Receiver

Hopkins was great in his first year with the Cardinals, but everything points to an immense ceiling in his second season in the desert.

Look, I get that it's not the boldest take in the world, but DeAndre Hopkins really could be this season's top fantasy football wide receiver.

Since the NFL Draft, Hopkins has an average draft position of 17th overall and 4th among all fantasy receivers, via data from the NFC. There's only so much room for him to build on that draft slot.

But he really can do it. He can be the WR1 this season. Wait. That's one too many words italicized.

Anyway, here's why we should love Nuk in Year Two in the desert.

Hopkins' Arizona Debut

In his first season with the Arizona Cardinals, Hopkins wound up as the WR8 in half-PPR formats on a per-game basis, thanks to a receiving line of 160 targets, 115 catches, 1,407 yards, and 6 touchdowns.

One of those stats is not like the others, and it's the touchdown count.

Using numberFire's Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) metric to identify touchdown regression, Hopkins should have scored 8.7 touchdowns in 2020.

If we use simple receiving yardage outputs to spot touchdown expectations based on historical receiver precedent, we're looking at an even higher rate of 9.5 touchdowns.

That's a two-score gap between his expectation and reality at the very least, and we could easily say it's three or four scores if we're trying to be a little more heavy-handed to make a point, which is something I'm at least hinting at doing.

And if you're not a fan of things like expected touchdowns (but you're reading numberFire, so it's probably your sort of thing), just know that there have been 101 instances of a player tallying 1,400 receiving yards or more in NFL history.

Of those 101 player campaigns, 89 receivers (so, 88.1%) scored at least 7 times, and more than half (57; 56.4%) had double-digit scores. Reminder: Hopkins had just six touchdowns last season.

So, the point here is that it's not that much of a reach to say Hopkins got unlucky with his touchdown output in 2020.

And, sure, perhaps some of it had to do with his role or usage, but that doesn't really track.

Hopkins earned a respectable 10 end zone targets, via NextGenStats, with only 3 end zone catches. He also wound up with only 3 overall red zone touchdowns despite 18 red zone targets.

That screams regression.

And while we have no guarantees in fantasy football, we can virtually guarantee that Hopkins will have volume if he stays healthy.

His 160 targets were second-most in the NFL, and as much as we may want to complicate things when preparing for fantasy football season, target volume is sticky year-over-year. It just is.

It's also not a reach to suggest that Hopkins, a historically high-volume wideout, will remain as such over a full season.

In fact, numberFire projects Hopkins for 182.5 targets this season (remember, it's now a 17-game season), which are second-most in the league.

DeAndre Hopkins' 2021 Fantasy Football Projection

As already mentioned, numberFire's projections are anticipating big volume for Hopkins in 2021, and those 183 targets are expected to lead to 128 catches, 1,540 yards, and 9.0 receiving scores. That's good for WR4 numbers, per numberFire.

Hopkins is also the WR4 in my projections with an expected line of 170 targets, 120 catches, 1,464 yards, and 8.5 touchdowns.

With a bounce-back over-performance in touchdown rate and for those ahead of him in my projections (Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill, and Calvin Ridley) to stumble with scoring rates, Hopkins' claim to WR1 status would be easy.

Again, I'm not out here to make a bold claim and state that Hopkins should be projected as the WR1 this season. Other guys have a lot of this same stuff going for them, namely the big volume.

All I'm trying to say is that we have no reasons to worry about Hopkins based on what we saw last season in his first year (and with an abbreviated offseason), and that such a level of security can lead to high-end upside if the touchdowns fall his way this season.