It all starts with a catch.
Sure, Kyler Murray throwing out of the scramble was extremely difficult in itself, as was the double and, eventual, triple coverage the Bills put forth on the lumbering wide receiver positioned down the field.
Regardless of the tricky throw and defensive positioning, though, DeAndre Hopkins still made the catch and, most significantly, the impact play.
Such was the fact for the Arizona Cardinals this past Sunday when they played Buffalo. With Arizona trailing 30-26 at home with 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Murray slung a Hail Mary pass 43 yards toward his newly-minted, go-to wide receiver in Hopkins.
An NBA-caliber jump by the 28-year-old Clemson product, followed by an athletic-as-they-come catch, netted the Cardinals a thrilling 32-30 win at State Farm Stadium. The win, for any Cardinals’ die-hard or casual out there, was definitely a cause for celebration.
While fans might still be basking in the victory, the team itself will be relishing the fact that they have a legitimate, top-notch wide receiver making an in-game and in-season impact.
Hopkins, in his first season with Arizona after being traded by the Houston Texans in the offseason, has put together big-time production for a young Cardinals’ offense and coaching staff. Although Hopkins only has four touchdowns to his name through nine games played, he has 67 receptions on 88 targets for 861 yards. These numbers not only lead all Cardinals’ receivers, but are also in elite categories when compared to the rest of the NFL. His target numbers rank fourth when compared to the rest of the league, while his reception and receiving-yard totals are tied for second and rank second, respectively.
Looking beyond the box score shows Hopkins’ excellence even more. His 7.4 receptions per game is currently a career-high in his eight-year NFL career. This mark is also tied with New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara for second in the entire NFL (Green Bay’s Davante Adams is currently averaging 8.7 receptions per game). When looking at each individual reception, Hopkins continues to stand out. Among all Cardinals’ players who have caught a pass, Hopkins’ 12.9 yards per reception ranks third on the team and is tied for 47th among 162 NFL pass-catchers. Hopkins’ collective average of 95.7 receiving yards per game, meanwhile, ranks second (Adams is averaging 105.9 receiving yards per game) in the entire NFL.
While Hopkins has definitely shown his top-five wide receiver potential over the course of his debut season in the desert, one particular area outside of his yard, reception, and average total stands out above all else. After all, you cannot be explosive in those areas without catching the ball, right?
When looking at catch percentage (which is calculated by a player’s receptions divided by his targets), Hopkins takes it to another level.
Through nine games played, Hopkins’ 2020 catch percentage is 76.1%. Before 2020, his best catch percentage in a season came in 2018 (70.6%). Although his 2020 catch percentage ranks fifth out of six NFL wide receivers who have at least 50 receptions and a catch percentage of at least 75% this season (Kamara, Cole Beasley, Tyler Boyd, and Juju Smith-Schuster are currently beating him out), the mark is currently a career-high for Hopkins.
While this career mark makes sense when combined with the rest of his production totals this season, his mark among all receivers in Cardinals’ history can make eyebrows raise, too. How so, though?
When looking at the entire history of the Cardinals’ franchise, only eight Cardinals’ wide receivers since 1992 (when catch percentage began to be recorded) have had a season (or seasons) where they had at least 60 receptions and a catch percentage of at least 60% as well: Anquan Boldin (four times), Steve Breaston (2008), John Brown (2015), Larry Fitzgerald (11 times), Christian Kirk (2019), Ricky Proehl (1993), Frank Sanders (1998) and Hopkins in 2020, as it currently stands. When adding it all together, there have been 21 individual seasons where such a feat has been accomplished. Among all 21 seasons, Hopkins’ current 2020 season holds the recognition of having the best catch percentage. The next-highest catch percentage is Fitzgerald, who had a catch percentage of 75.2% in 2015.
While this is not to say that Hopkins is already leaps and bounds ahead of the other Cardinal greats, it does suggest he has already made an impact on the field and, should he keep up the production, finds himself in the annals of franchise books.
Sure, yard and reception totals, in addition to averages, are nice. Hopkins has definitely excelled in those areas.
But just like his performance last Sunday, something else looms large over all else.
It all starts with a catch.