DeAndre Hopkins Might Be Overvalued in Fantasy Football This Year

DeAndre Hopkins became an elite wide receiver in fantasy football last year, but things could regress a bit in 2016.

Mad Men was a great show.

But it wasn't the greatest show I've ever seen.

I'll drop a "Not great, Bob!" reference in every 15 or so articles I write (maybe even every 11 or 12) because the short clip is so perfect. And the show produced a lot of those perfect moments, whether they were hilarious quotes from Roger Sterling, detailed, emotional pitches from Don Draper, or -- spoiler alert! -- a dude's foot getting chopped up in the office by a lawn mower.

I loved Mad Men. But plenty of people liked the show a lot more than I did.

I love DeAndre Hopkins. But plenty of people are going to like him more than I do in fantasy football entering the 2016 season.

Here's why.

A Tale of Two Halves

It's important for me to say that I do believe Hopkins is a top-flight, elite receiver in not only fantasy football, but real football as well. Last season, per our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, only Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, and Antonio Brown were more valuable than Hopkins was.

But last year was a little strange for Hopkins and the Texans offense. If you recall, the Texans weren't very good to start the season, beginning the year 2-5 before finishing 9-7 and making the playoffs.

It was during that stretch of bad Texans football where Hopkins made a name for himself as one of fantasy football's best wideouts. Take a look at his volume numbers and weekly PPR finishes at wide receiver below through those first seven games -- games that came before a big four-game winning streak by Houston.

Week Team Opponent Targets Weekly Rank (PPR)
1 HOU KC 13 2nd
2 HOU CAR 11 48th
3 HOU TB 14 12th
4 HOU ATL 22 5th
5 HOU IND 14 1st
6 HOU JAX 15 1st
7 HOU MIA 12 33rd

Through the first seven weeks of the season, Hopkins finished in the top-five in weekly scoring four different times. For reference, Julio Jones did that a total of five times all of last season (albeit he had a few more top-10 finishes).

Hopkins was a beast. A monster.

He also saw a hell of a lot of targets.

Over this seven-game span, Hopkins never fell below 11 targets in a game, averaging 14.43 looks per contest. (Even without the 22-target game, he was averaging over 13 targets each game.) Had he kept that pace, he would've finished with nearly 231 targets, which would have shattered the record of 208 targets in a single season.

Obviously we're not talking about Hopkins' record-breaking volume because, well, Hopkins didn't continue to see that volume.

As I said, the Texans were bad to start the 2015 season. The team's defense -- the one that carried them to the playoffs -- ranked as the 23rd-best one according to our schedule-adjusted metrics after Week 7.

That poor defense ended up forcing a pass-happy gameplan. The Texans were playing from behind often -- they had a negative game script -- which meant more passes at the end of games in order to catch up.

Through Week 7, only five teams had a higher pass-to-run ratio than Houston: Detroit, New England, San Diego, Indianapolis and Miami.

When the season ended, each of those teams still ranked in the top-10 in pass-to-run ratio.

Houston ranked 20th.

From Week 8 on, the Texans were a different squad. The defense stepped up and, in turn, the ground game was able to get some use, despite Arian Foster's season-ending injury.

Take a look at Hopkins' volume numbers and fantasy finishes from Week 8 through Week 16, the remaining relevant fantasy football weeks.

Week Team Opponent Targets Weekly Rank (PPR)
8 HOU TEN 11 12th
10 HOU CIN 11 16th
11 HOU NYJ 12 1st
12 HOU NO 8 51st
13 HOU BUF 9 14th
14 HOU NE 6 52nd
15 HOU IND 11 26th
16 HOU TEN 11 6th

That looks a little different, doesn't it?

From Weeks 8 through 16, Hopkins averaged fewer than 10 targets per game, hitting the 12 target mark just once. Remember, during Weeks 1 through 7, Hopkins was averaging far more than 12 targets per contest.

His weekly rankings -- his fantasy production -- fell as a result. No, he wasn't bad by any means, but Hopkins' average ranking over this second-half timeframe was 22.25. During the first half, it was 14.57. He went from being the top wideout during the first portion of the season in PPR scoring to one that scored fewer points per contest than Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks.

And the easiest, most-obvious reason for this is that the Texans became a good football team.

I mentioned earlier that the Texans started the season off ranked 23rd in our schedule-adjusted metrics defensively. Well, by the end of the year, they ranked third, behind only Denver and Carolina.

Take a look at how this drastically changed the Texans' play-calling, thanks to playing in positive game scripts.

Drop BacksRushesRatio
Weeks 1-73411911.79
Weeks 8-162712501.08

This isn't all some coincidence. A player needs volume at the wide receiver position -- any position, really -- to be successful in fantasy football. When a team goes from being one of the pass-heaviest to one of the run-heaviest, there are going to be different results.

He's Not Toast

The thing is, Hopkins is going to have a new quarterback under center this season in Brock Osweiler, so the hope is that he's more efficient with what will probably be a lower target total on the season.

The problem with that line of thinking, though, is that it assumes a relatively unknown asset (Osweiler) is all of a sudden going to drive up Hopkins' efficiency with each target. That, and other things could also go south -- there are new weapons in Houston, and there's going to be what will surely be a better run game with Lamar Miller.

I don't mean to diminish what Hopkins has become to fantasy football -- he's a top wideout. He's just not exactly in that elite tier that many are placing him in.

Unless you think the Texans defense won't perform at a high level, or the Texans signed Lamar Miller over the offseason to not run the football. Then Hopkins might flash some of those first-half-of-the-2015-season numbers.

Otherwise, he's more of a surefire top-10 wide receiver this year rather than a top-5 one. And while that seems small, that's the potential difference between a first- and second-round pick.