As his nickname, might suggest, "Nuke" Hopkins didn't spend any of his collegiate career pussyfooting around. In 2010, his first year in Tiger stripes, he played in twelve games (starting eight), leading the team with 52 catches (covering 637 yards and four TDs) and earning the team's Rookie of the Year award. In 2011, he played in every game, piling up 978 yards on 72 catches, with five scores, adding a school bowl-record 10 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown in Clemson's post-season bowl game against West Virginia. In 2012, he burst out, finishing with a single-season school record 1,405 receiving yards on 82 catches, and setting a new ACC-mark with 18 receiving scores (the second place finisher had ten).
Hopkins is not just an athlete playing outside the numbers; he is a receiver who runs polished routes, runs the entire route tree, and sets up different routes skillfully and sneakily, keeping defenders off balance. He has excellent body control, which he uses to make quick, sharp cuts. Hopkins is very good at creating separation from the defender, at locating and tracking the ball, and in attacking it at its highest point. He has excellent focus and is a fluid mover at 6'1" and 214 pounds (after his freshman season, he joined the Clemson basketball team in a reserve role; one year earlier, he led his high school hoops team to a state title). In addition, Hopkins has shown himself to be a good run blocker, locating, latching onto and driving back defensive backs infield.
Many of you probably haven't spent as much time researching wide receivers as you have other positions of greater perceived need for the Cowboys. If this is indeed the case, I encourage you to watch Hopkins in action; here he is, in a 2012 highlight reel, against SEC powerhouse LSU and in an ACC rivals two-fer: North Carolina State and Florida State. As the tape suggests, Hopkins's game has much to recommend it; he's a crafty, polished receiver who has a wicked double-move and uses his body to create space for the catch.
Do our esteemed scouts agree? Lets read what they have to say and meet back at the bivouac, located at the bottom of the page.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 6th-rated WR; 43rd overall
Separation Skills: Very quick feet. At times does a nice job at the line of scrimmage with stem-and-stick, but needs to be more consistent in that area. Needs to cut down on the wasted steps when releasing and needs to do a better job with his hands. Displays a good natural feel for reading coverages. Takes solid angles, locates soft spots and knows how to settle in. However, he's a choppy route runner that lacks acceleration out of his cuts. Takes too long getting in and out of breaks. Also can do a better job with scramble rules and working back to the QB after initial play breaks down.
Ball Skills: Close to elite category if not for occasionally letting ball get into pads (rather than high-pointing it) and occasional concentration lapse (S. Carolina game 2012 is best example). Otherwise, he shows strong hands and good overall ball skills. Looks confident attacking the ball. Does a great job of plucking on the run. Good body control to adjust. Consistently shows ability to catch ball thrown over head. Average catching radius.
Big Play Ability: Shows good take-off burst on vertical routes. Lacks an elite second-gear but has competitive top-end speed to get over the top of some cornerbacks in man-to-man. Does a very good job of tracking and adjusting to the deep ball. Not overly elusive and does not show the ability to string together multiple moves. However, he does pluck naturally on the run and transitions up the field quickly. He shows good initial burst, field vision and the ability to navigate through some traffic. Run hard and will frequently fall forward at the end of runs, but not overly powerful and gets tripped up too easily at times.
Competitiveness: Tough competitor. Delivers in the clutch (no more so than final game vs. LSU). Usually not afraid to go over the middle but did have a drop vs. NCST in 2012 that was questionable. Has shown ability to secure before taking hit. Runs hard after the catch and will fight for extra yards. Has a mean streak to him and likes to get physical with defensive backs when blocking.
Intangibles: Nickname is 'Nuk'. Will be a 21-year old rookie. Driven, goal-oriented individual. Passionate about the game and well-respected by his teammates. Only second player in ACC history to record at least 50 catches as both a freshman and sophomore. Played basketball for the Tigers after football season ended in 2010-'11. Nephew of the late Terry Smith, who had 162 catches as a Tiger from 1990-'93.
CBSSports.com (Rob Rang): 3rd-rated WR; 27th overall
Strengths: Nice job catching the ball in stride and immediately creating after the catch with a very good sense of his surroundings, always appearing to have a plan. Deceiving body strength and powers through arm tackles, playing with toughness. Strong hands with above average body control and focus to highpoint and attack the ball in the air. Tracks the deep ball and shows a second gear to separate at the final moment and finish. Very good short-area burst in his cuts with some beautiful stop-and-go moves and route acceleration to create room.
Good shoulder dip and footwork to set up his routes with very good feel, taking pride in his patterns. Handled quarterback Tajh Boyd's fastballs the past three years and uses his extension to reel-in tough grabs - high, low or outside, he goes and gets it. Uses his body well to box-out defenders and is fearless over the middle. Changes gears well and knows how to turn on the jets, using his vision and awareness to create. Competitive and physical attitude and wants the ball more than anyone else on the field, never conceding the top receiver distinction to Watkins. Dedicated himself to the weight room this past off-season and it shows on the field. Much improved maturity took even the coaches by surprise with his goal oriented approach and work ethic. Super productive the past three seasons, leaving with school with numerous school and conference records.
Weaknesses: Lean torso with average height and frame with limited growth potential. Won't break a lot of tackles and has room to get stronger. Will have his share of focus drops, running before securing the grab at times. Will attempt to corral the catch at times instead of using his palms. Lacks track speed and won't be able to leave NFL cornerbacks in his dust on foot speed alone. Showed steady progression each year, but still improving his consistency and is not yet a finished product.
Compares to: Reggie Wayne, WR, Indianapolis Colts - Like Wayne, Hopkins isn't the biggest or fastest, but he's able to manipulate his routes to create separation and is a reliable pass catcher with the body control, focus and competitive nature to finish. And like Wayne (30th pick in the 2001 NFL Draft), Hopkins will likely fall out of the top-25 picks and prove to be an excellent value in the late first or early second round.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 5th-rated WR; 42nd overall
Positives: Good size - well-proportioned with long arms and big hands. Loose lower body. Adroit route runner - sets up defenders and separates with tempo and gear change. Very good balance and body control. Tracks and adjusts. Quarterback friendly (works back to throws). Confident, quick-handed catcher - attacks the ball to snatch throws off his frame. Competes in traffic. Finds soft spots in zone. Transitions smoothly into a runner - catches in stride, sidesteps tacklers and picks up YAC. Punt-return experience. Will be a 21-year old rookie.
Negatives: Does not have elite vertical speed to run by corners. Not a downfield go-up-and-get-it guy. Tight-hipped and not laterally quick, as confirmed by marginal 20-yard-short-shuttle times (4.5 seconds). Ordinary suddenness (lacks ideal slot quickness). Occasional concentration drop. Average creativity and run strength after the catch. Did not have to contend with double coverage opposite Sammy Watkins.
Summary: A productive three-year starter who steadily improved, Hopkins is a competitive, savvy, instinctive receiver who should be a dependable No. 2 or No. 3, short-intermediate target in the pros.
Ourlads (Dan Shonka): 3rd-rated WR; 22nd overall
Junior entry. Three-year starter who concluded his Tiger career with 12 straight games of at least one touchdown catch. Electric and dynamic in his play. Exceptional ball skills. Extends and reaches for the off-target pass and explodes up the field. Natural hand catcher who also returns punts. Good concentration and vision to pluck a ball in a crowd. Can take a hit over the middle. Good contact balance. A make you miss type ball carrier after catch. Question hand strength at times. Gives effort as a blocker, but could get stronger. Plays fast. Ran in the low 4.50's but improved to the mid-4.40s on Clemson's pro day. Can separate and create space. Plays up-tempo and quick in his movement. Displays good focus, timing and body control with athletic run after catch ability. Set records in receiving yards (3020), touchdown catches (27), and had twelve 100-yard receiving games. Caught 206 passes in his career. Has the talent to provide early impact play as a receiver.
Our scouts place Hopkins in "the bend," that liminal space in the late first to early second rounds. I think he's a bit better than that. He's not one of those size-speed monsters who teams fall in love with, hoping they can turn them into NFL receivers. Rather, Hopkins is the kind of collegiate receiver who successfully transitions to the pro game: one with a pro-ready game. He's a natural, highly productive wideout with uncanny awareness for the nuances of the position. So, despite his lack of top-end speed, I'm going to place him in the first round on my 2013 "little board."
We must ask: if he is indeed a bend player, why did the Cowboys, who pick in the middle of both rounds, invite him to Valley Ranch? As O.C.C. noted a couple of weeks ago, the team has done a good job extending invitations to players who ended up being selected within striking distance of their picks. If this holds true, then they think Hopkins is a) worthy of the 18th pick or b) stands a reasonable chance of "clearing the bend" and being on the board when they pick at #47. In other words, they think he's a little better or not quite as good as our panel of scouts does.
The question is which? I love the player and can envision a scenario in which Dallas drafts him at #18, but I'd be more comfortable were they to get him in round two. If he had legit 4.4 speed, I think he'd be an early first-rounder, and they'd have no choice but to spend the 18th pick on him. Because he's run in the low 4.5s, he'll drop...but will he fall as far as 47? If so, Ol' Rabble promises to record his happy dance and post it on YouTube.
Next up: Baylor WR Terrance Williams