Today on Locked On NFL Draft, Trevor and I got a little bit excited.
Discovering players is hands-down the best part of the summer. Usually it's just like the case of Brycen Hopkins: you know his name, a bit of his background and what makes him intriguing, and that's it. In Hopkins' case, it's his pops, an ex-Tennessee Titans OT, that brought Hopkins' name to our attention. That, and his 17.1 yards/catch.
The first thing you'll notice with Hopkins is his fluidity at his size. Pops right off of the film and you just can't deny it. At 6-foot-5 and somewhere in the 240s, Hopkins is a thinner tight end, but he brings explosiveness off the line and into his blocks, quick-footed work through his route stem, and he's nimble with the ball in his hands. Everything this dude does is just effortless, and it's easy to forget that you're watching a tight end and not a wide receiver.
Hopkins benefitted a lot from this play concept, route, and spacing idea. As the innermost receiver in spread sets, he attacked the hole between split-safety defenders, challenging LB zone depth especially against play action. This is easy pickings for almost any NFL-caliber tight end in the NFL -- but you can see how quick Hopkins' feet are, and his ability to redirect and cut in space to pick up positive yardage after the catch.
Hopkins isn't thick by any means, but he's still powerful and has plus contact balance -- it regularly takes an extra defender to bring him down. When you pair that with his athletic ability, you get more middle of the field routes that look like this one.
Again: attacks intermediate space behind linebacker layers. If you're looking for concerns with Hopkins right now, it's how he got his touches: these deep overs that leave him in no man's land; ghost screens and throwback passes. There's a lot of schemed stuff, so you can have question marks about his separation ability. We'll get to that in a second here, but it's worth noting in general.
On this particular rep, however, you see that Hopkins makes a strong above-the-rim catch and is ready to break a tackle even as he lands. He often bounces off of first contact like this to pick up hidden yardage, and is unafraid of the physical requirements of seam-busting TE play -- that's something that a lot of thinner, quicker college TEs lack.
Hopkins didn't churn out a ton of red zone targets or TDs for the Boilermakers -- only 2 touchdowns last year as compared to 7 across his first two seasons -- but his touchdown catch against Missouri illustrate what he could be here. Working an out-and-up, Hopkins has the explosiveness to gain outside leverage on the corner matching him, and is quick in turning upfield -- the head fake isn't so much there on this route yet, but we'll give him a pass for now.
But the route adjustment here is what's impressive: Hopkins feels the pressure of the defensive back and know that this ball won't be coming to the back pylon -- that's too difficult a play. He and QB David Blough are on the same page: with length and strength, Hopkins quickly separates from the defender and makes another strong hands snag, this one through contact, and survives the ground.
As a route-runner, Hopkins is more of a natural athlete than he is a technician just yet. A heavy portion of his receiving work for Purdue this year was vertical seam ideas, but those reps on which he does have breaking routes are important for filling out his evaluation.
Take this 3rd-down conversion against Nebraska, in which Hopkins is one-on-one with a safety. He needs to regularly win these reps at the college level if he's going to be a flex tight end at the NFL level, and when he's gotten them in college, he has. Watch him vary his stride length to settle the safety at the top of his stem before climbing right up onto his toes and exploding into his break with great quickness, and again, that smoothness. Hopkins is a fluid dude.
These are the reps for which I'll be scouring Hopkins' senior film. Blough wasn't necessarily a strong-armed QB, and I'm not surprised most of Hopkins' routes stayed in the middle of the field. But Hopkins' ability to separate against man coverage should make him a prominent short/intermediate target when opponents match him with a safety or, God forbid, a linebacker -- and with the ball in his hands, he can continue churning out explosive plays.
Hopkins probably isn't a Round 1 TE -- or the next Evan Engram, as Trevor suggested -- but he's one of the more natural receivers the position currently has for the 2020 class, will be a key target for the Senior Bowl, and is a name you'll be hearing a lot more frequently come November and December. Best get acquainted now.