Momentum was too critical to ignore as DeAndre Hopkins weighed his options to either remain at Clemson and make a run at a bigger prize, or seize the future with those golden hands and enter the NFL draft as a potential first-round pick.
“It was my time,” Hopkins said Wednesday. “I felt I like accomplished all that I wanted to accomplish on and off the field.”
Hopkins said he began last season intending to be in position to make this decision.
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“Momentum was one of them,” he said. “I’m not going to say it was the main factor but that was one of them.”
Momentum, indeed. Another in an impressive string of players from Daniel High, Hopkins leaves an unmatched legacy as Clemson’s career leader in receiving yards (3,020) and touchdowns (27). His 18 touchdown receptions set an Atlantic Coast Conference record, and the 82 receptions tied the record set by teammate Sammy Watkins the previous year.
His rivalry with Watkins and the friendship cultivated during two years together were also factors, he said.
“Coming in here, I wanted to be the best wide receiver. Sammy felt the same way, and that was the key part of our success to the season,” he said. “He’s like my little brother. We’ll be in each other’s weddings.”
Hopkins said his defining moment was the 27-yard catch on fourth down and 16 to extend the drive in the final 90 seconds of the Chick-fil-A Bowl. “Man, that was incredible,” he said. “I couldn’t have pictured it going out any way better.”
Watching Chandler Catanzaro kick the winning field goal through tears of joy and prayers of thanks, the emotion poured from him, “Happiness and being able to overcome all the obstacles the past three years.”
LSU safety Eric Reed was covering him. Hopkins and Reed later trained together in Florida for a month. Hopkins said the game barely came up.
The NFL Draft Advisory Board projected Hopkins as a second-round pick — “that, to me, sounds good” — but his stock began to climb on the momentum generated by the bowl game. Hopkins attended the NFL Combine in late February, worked out at Pro Day here last week for scouts from all but one team then visited the Carolina Panthers for an individual workout Monday.
“That play says a lot,” Hopkins said. “That was fourth quarter with a fast-paced offense. That takes endurance to go out there and give your all in the fourth quarter and not give up.
“I feel like NFL teams or GMs watching that game, it should say a whole lot about who I am as a person.”
After projecting him earlier as a second-rounder, Mel Kiper Jr. of ESPN had him as the 27th pick overall this week in a “mock” first round.
“I kind of felt coming out of high school I wasn’t always the five-star person,” Hopkins said. “I feel like I’ve over achieved.
“It’s not going out there and proving people wrong if I go first round. I feel like it’s a personal challenge once you’re doing that.”
Since the bowl game, it’s been non-stop. “I thought it was going to be a chill situation.” Now, other than jetting to private workouts, Hopkins hoped to remain in the area until the draft. As expected, he doesn’t have a preference, “cold weather, warm, I’m a ballplayer.”
Hopkins wants to leave Clemson fans and his teammates with fond memories, as “a very honest person, down to earth, a person who puts his heart into everything.
“(As) somebody that’s determined to succeed in life.”
SIZING UP HOPKINS
Draft analysis for Clemson
WR DeAndre ‘Nuk’ Hopkins from NFL.com:
Creates separation and deceives defensive backs with head fakes and moves. Has NFL-quality straight-line speed and strong hands.
Occasionally loses track of the ball on easy catches when trying to make a move too early. Needs to be more physical in blocking.
Should be in the conversation to be one of the first receivers drafted, probably in the late first round range.