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Is Hopkins' Fantasy Potential Nuk'd in Arizona?

Wide receivers changing teams is often a red flag for fantasy owners. Learning a new offensive scheme while simultaneously attempting to mesh with a new quarterback can lead to unpredictable hiccups when projecting players in unfamiliar situations. In fact, since 2015, no player other than Brandin Cooks has changed teams and still finished as a WR1 in half point-per-reception leagues (Cooks finished as the WR12 with the Patriots in 2017).

With perennial fantasy stud DeAndre Hopkins now running routes in the desert for young phenom Kyler Murray, it is important to look beyond the excitement of what this star duo could achieve and investigate whether the hype will lead to fantasy success.

Since wide receivers rely heavily on their quarterbacks, we must evaluate how Hopkins' skillset compliments that of Murray. Fortunately for each, Nuk is one of the most complete wide receivers in the NFL. He lined up outside 68.2% of the time last season while running 31.2% of his routes from the slot. The number of routes run from the slot will likely decrease, with future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald occupying that role for the Cardinals. Thus, Nuk's connection with Murray on outside and downfield passes may prove crucial to his fantasy success in this offense.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

Going Deep

Kyler Murray attempted 70 deep ball passes (pass attempts that travel beyond 20 yards in the air) in 2019, ranking ninth in the NFL. Football Outsiders' "2019-20 Deep Ball Project" rated Murray as the most accurate deep passer in the NFL last season, with an accuracy percentage of 61.2%. This accuracy percentage ranked just ahead of Patrick Mahomes and was also higher than Football Outsiders' most accurate deep ball passer of 2018-19, Andrew Luck.

This provides confidence that valuable downfield targets will be there for Nuk both voluminously and accurately. Further, as evident in Matt Harmon's "Reception Perception" data, Nuk is quite capable of turning downfield targets into production. Nuk set career highs last season in success rate versus both man coverage (77%) and press coverage (79.1%) while winning at an 82.6% rate versus zone coverage. Nuk's elite ability to succeed against any coverage should blend beautifully with Murray's downfield accuracy.

We have only one season's worth of data to rely upon regarding quarterback Kyler Murray, but taking note that Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen and Sam Darnold all finished the 2019 season with more passes attempted per game than in their rookie season, we can fairly confidently project Murray to surpass his 542 pass attempts from last year. Baker Mayfield was the lone sophomore quarterback from 2019 who failed to increase his pass attempts per game but nonetheless shows that potential roadblocks exist.

While there is notable room for growth in the pass attempt department, we must be mindful that the Cardinals may attempt fewer passes per game if they are able to be more consistently competitive. Jackson, Allen, and Darnold averaged an increase of 2.22 pass attempts per game from rookie to sophomore season. Using this number to represent Murray's ceiling, we can project a cautious range of 542 - 578 pass attempts in 2020.

 

New Competition

Since 2015, Nuk has averaged a 31% target share. While it is tempting to pencil in Nuk for 31% of Murray's projected pass attempts, Larry Fitzgerald and fellow wide receiver Christian Kirk both commanded target shares of more than 20% last season and will be heavily involved once again. Murray's 5.1 average completed air yards, per NFL's Next Gen Stats, tied Mitchell Trubisky for 31st amongst quarterbacks last season. That stat is not promising as it relates to Nuk's outside receiver role. Further, Murray's average time-to-throw, per Next Gen Stats, was 28th in the NFL at 2.73 seconds. While the drafting of Josh Jones should help the offensive line, the Cardinals are not going to be significantly improved in this area. Limited time to throw equates to frequent check-down passes to underneath options such as Larry Fitzgerald and running back Kenyan Drake.

Following Drake's arrival in week 9, Christian Kirk led the Cardinals with a 25.1% target share over the second half of the season, followed by Fitzgerald at 20.9% and Drake at 14.6%. Wide receivers, as a group, accounted for 72.8% of Murray's targets following the acquisition of Drake. Furthermore, no NFL team targeted the wide receiver position as frequently as the Cardinals did in 2019 (69.8%). Nuk's presence will most significantly impact Kirk's target totals, but Hopkins should line up all over and will, as a result, chip away at every pass catcher's target share.

Nuk's target share decreased from 32.9% in 2018 to 30.9% in 2019, and could potentially decline further in 2020. With such a large target share dedicated to the wide receiver position, however, Nuk's floor should remain relatively safe. Even if the target shares remain steady for Kirk, Fitzgerald, and Drake, there would still be a 26.8% target share remaining for Cardinals' wide receivers. With the main threats for leftover targets coming from Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson, Hakeem Butler, and Trent Sherfield, Nuk should command the vast majority of those looks.

While he will not command the entirety of those leftover targets, Nuk will also steal targets from the main weapons in this offense. Kirk's 25.1% target share following Drake's arrival appears to represent Nuk's floor, while his ceiling may be closer to the 28% mark than the 30+% he commanded over the past several years in Houston. Assuming a target share between 25.1% - 28%, Nuk's target range should fall between 136 - 162 this season.

 

QB Consistency At Last

Nuk has dealt with inconsistent quarterback play at times throughout his career. Since 2014, Nuk has played in 94 games. During that time, he has averaged 82.98 receiving yards per game, despite only 37 of those games having been started by Deshaun Watson. The other 57 games during that timeframe were started by quarterbacks such as Ryan Mallett, Tom Savage, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer, Brock Osweiler, and A.J. McCarron. This is notable because it demonstrates Nuk's ability to overcome poor quarterback play, as well as his ability to quickly adapt to a new quarterback. The latter of those abilities will be put to the test as Nuk adjusts to a new NFL home.

For his career, Nuk has averaged a 60.3% catch rate. That number shot up to 70% in the two full seasons Nuk enjoyed with Deshaun Watson. Kyler Murray completed 64.4% of his pass attempts last season, and while that number was elevated by a 68.8% completion rate when targeting Larry Fitzgerald and an 80% completion rate when targeting Kenyan Drake, Murray's previously mentioned 61.2% deep ball accuracy rate provides confidence that Nuk's 60.3% career catch rate should represent his floor in this offense. Considering Christian Kirk had a 63% catch rate playing outside for Murray last season, Nuk's 2020 reception range should fall between 82 - 102, supplying a safe floor with obvious room for upside if Murray realizes a portion of his vast potential.

Nuk established a career-low in yards per reception last season at 11.2. This output fell below his career average of 13.6 yards per reception. Fewer routes run from the slot should hint at an increase in yards per reception, but Murray's low completed air yard numbers may counteract that, to an extent. Christian Kirk's 10.4 yards per reception last season was slightly lower than Hopkins, while Kirk's average depth of target of 9.6 also fell below Nuk's 10.3 average depth of target. It is therefore likely that Hopkins experiences a slight decrease in average depth of target in his first season working with Kyler Murray, but Nuk is a superior talent to Kirk and is likely to finish the season with better numbers overall. Using Kirk's yards per reception as a baseline and Nuk's career average as his ceiling, we can project a receiving yardage range of 853 - 1,387 in 2020.

Turning our attention to Nuk's touchdown potential in his new home, we must consider that Kyler Murray's 3.7% touchdown rate from 2019 was well below the NFL average of 4.5%. For comparison's sake, the NFL average over the past five seasons is 4.48%. It is likely that Murray approaches the league average this season, but even a 4.0% touchdown rate would equate to 22.5 passing touchdowns. Nuk has accounted for 36.8% of the Texans' receiving touchdowns over the past five seasons and should immediately become Murray's top red-zone option. 55% of Murray's passing touchdowns went to wide receivers a year ago, which would suggest that a bare minimum of 12 touchdowns should be available for this receiver group in 2020.

Considering 69.8% of Murray's targets went to wideouts, there is also a clear path to positive regression in this area. Eight of Murray's touchdown passes went to the likes of Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson, Pharoh Cooper, Damiere Byrd, Dan Arnold, Maxx Williams, and Charles Clay in 2019, and a portion of those are likely to be redirected to the Cardinals' top three receivers. Even without a significant step forward from Murray, Nuk should be in line for 5 - 9 touchdown receptions this season.

Analyzing Nuk's range of outcomes, we are left with a comfortable median projection of 149 targets - 92 receptions - 1,120 receiving yards - 7 touchdowns. Add it all up and you are looking at a total of 200.0 fantasy points in half point-per-reception leagues, which would have been good enough to finish as the WR12 in fantasy last season. Ultimately, while a wide receiver changing teams is generally something to be cautious with, DeAndre Hopkins will finish as a WR1 in fantasy even if the Cardinals' offense fails to reach the heights expected.

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