Even without former Clemson quarterback around to throw him the ball, DeAndre Hopkins continues to distinguish himself as one of the best receivers in the NFL.
Like Watson, Hopkins is a Clemson alum who was one of the best players at his position in the first half of the 2017 season. Unlike Watson, who is out for the rest of the year with a torn ACL, Hopkins continues to mystify opposing defenses.
That’s what he did Sunday in the Houston Texans’ 31-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Hopkins finished the come-from-behind victory with four receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown.
On the score, his league-leading ninth touchdown catch of the season, Hopkins fought off very tight coverage of All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson. Sprinting toward the goal line, Hopkins separated from Peterson to haul in the 28-yard scoring pass from backup quarterback Tom Savage.
Peterson was victimized by Hopkins on the play, but delivered some highlights with an interception, three passes defensed and two tackles in the loss.
After the game, the players who seem destined to see each other in the Pro Bowl swapped jerseys.
In addition to his scoring catch, Hopkins also had a 34-yard reception for Houston.
For the season, Hopkins has 62 receptions for 879 yards and the nine touchdowns. That prompted high praise from his quarterback.
“He’s incredible,” Savage said of Hopkins. He is the best receiver in the league.”
His fine play also caught the eye of Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald. One of the best pass catchers in the league for a long time, the future Hall of Famer sought out Hopkins after the game to show his appreciation for the former Tigers’ performance.
“A lot of respect,” Hopkins said of embracing Fitzgerald. “He’s been like a mentor to me.”
Hopkins wasn’t the only Texans receiver to step up Sunday. Former South Carolina Gamecocks standout Bruce Ellington delivered his best performance of the season.
Ellington had six catches, on seven targets, for 63 yards. His day included an impressive 25-yard reception on third down when he was in triple coverage.
It wasn’t just the most receptions and yards in a single game for Ellington in 2017, but the best day of his pro career. This is his first season with the Texans, after being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2014.
For the season, Ellington has 25 catches for 294 yards and two touchdowns. Ellington, who played football and basketball at USC had Houston’s lone touchdown in lat week’s game.