DeAndre Hopkins

DeAndre Hopkins, 49ers' new rival, vows he's NFL's best wide receiver

DeAndre Hopkins, 49ers' new rival, vows he's NFL's best wide receiver

One of the 49ers' newest rivals is coming to the NFC West with lots of confidence.

DeAndre Hopkins hasn't even suited up for the Arizona Cardinals yet, but he told ESPN's "Jalen & Jacoby Show" that he "definitely" is the best wide receiver in the NFL. 

"I know I'm the best," Hopkins said Thursday. "Mike's my boy. I love [New Orleans Saints wide receiver] Michael [Thomas] ... but he knows if I had Drew Brees my whole career what these numbers would be. [Falcons wide receiver] Julio Jones knows if I had Matt Ryan my whole career. That's my boy. I trained with Julio, too. He knows what these numbers would be."

Hopkins caught passes from Houston Texans star Deshaun Watson over the last two-and-half seasons before being traded to the Cardinals this offseason, and Watson is no slouch as a quarterback. The 27-year-old receiver made first-team All-Pro in each of the last three seasons since Watson was drafted, catching 257 passes for 3,288 yards and 24 touchdowns in the QB's 37 career starts.

But Hopkins was great despite playing with numerous forgettable quarterbacks in four years before Watson arrived in Houston, making the Pro Bowl in 2015 after finishing third in receiving yards (1,521) and tied for seventh in TDs (11) while Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden each started at least one game.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Hopkins won't have to worry about that in 2020, barring injury, as he's set to team with up-and-coming star Kyler Murray in Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury's high-octane offense. That combination has the potential to be a thorn in the 49ers' side for years to come.

If you agree with where Hopkins stands among the game's best wide receivers, he'll pose a threat to the 49ers this season. Thomas and Jones each carved up the 49ers' dominant defense last season, with both catching 11 or more passes for 134 yards and at least one touchdown. Of the receivers who accrued at least 100 receiving yards in a game against the 49ers, Thomas (13) and Jones (11) had the most receptions.

[RELATED: How Washington jumping gun on Williams benefited 49ers] 

Hopkins will have two chances to replicate his peers' production, and he'll be aided by arguably a better supporting cast of receivers. Larry Fitzgerald caught 75 passes for 804 yards as a 36-year-old last season, while Christian Kirk had 709 receiving yards himself. Fitzgerald has gained more receiving yards (2,381) and scored more touchdowns (19) against the 49ers than any other team in his career, while Kirk has scored two of his six career TDs (in two seasons) against San Francisco.

The All-Pro receiver's swagger alone won't knock the 49ers off their divisional perch, but Hopkins' arrival should keep them -- and their secondary -- up at night preparing for (at least) two games against the Cardinals next season. 

49ers directly impacted by biggest position upgrades of NFL offseason

49ers directly impacted by biggest position upgrades of NFL offseason

With the vast majority of the top NFL free agents having signed with teams by now, we have a better idea of which areas certain teams are likely to improve in, as well as those in which they might decline.

Generally speaking, the 49ers have received very positive reviews for the developments of their offseason. They have addressed some of their biggest needs, and even managed to deal with Joe Staley's retirement on the fly while theoretically improving his spot on the offensive line in trading for Trent Williams. That said, it shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise that none of San Francisco's transactions were included among ESPN's Mike Clay's 25 biggest position upgrades of the NFL offseason. After all, when you have as stacked of a roster as the 49ers had last season, there isn't as much room to go up.

Just because the 49ers weren't included in Clay's rankings, however, doesn't mean they won't be significantly impacted by the top position upgrades in the league. In fact, there's a high likelihood San Francisco will be directly affected by each of what Clay has determined to be the three biggest upgrades in the NFL.

The single biggest position upgrade of the NFL offseason, according to Clay, is the one most certain to impact the 49ers of the top three. Why? Because the player providing the upgrade most recently played for San Francisco: defensive tackle DeForest Buckner.

"Colts general manager Chris Ballard said early in the offseason that the Colts' defensive scheme runs through the three-technique tackle," Clay wrote. "He put his money where his mouth is not long after, trading for Buckner. The 26-year-old was arguably the 49ers' best player during a 2019 season that saw the team advance to the Super Bowl. Buckner's 7 1/2 sacks tied for sixth, his 12 tackles for loss fifth and his 61 total tackles ninth among interior defensive linemen."

While Buckner will be a tremendous upgrade for the Colts over the incumbent Margus Hunt, he simultaneously leaves a giant void in the middle of the 49ers' dominant defensive line. San Francisco is counting on first-round draft pick Javon Kinlaw, as well as veteran D.J. Jones, to ensure that the 49ers don't suffer a corresponding downgrade.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Coming in at No. 2 on Clay's list is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers replacing quarterback Jameis Winston with Tom Brady. Out of the top three, this one is the least likely to directly affect San Francisco.

While Brady actually produced an identically-poor quarterback rating (53.7) to Winston last season, the upgrade primarily is based on Brady's winning track record and his comparatively superior ability to limit turnovers. The Buccaneers made as much noise as any team during free agency, and Brady is a big reason why they have the third-best odds (+625) to come out of the NFC according to FOX Bet.

The 49ers (+460) currently are the favorites in the NFC, and while they won't face Tampa Bay during the regular season, there's certainly a decent chance the two teams could encounter each other in the playoffs. Not to mention, the Buccaneers appear likely to be one of the few teams capable of contending with San Francisco for the lone first-round bye in the conference. The 49ers had no trouble with Winston last season, but Brady potentially could be a different story.

And, finally, coming in as the third-biggest position upgrade on Clay's list is the Arizona Cardinals replacing Damiere Byrd with All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins. San Francisco seems likely to feel the brunt of that development more than most.

"Cardinals GM Steve Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury were not shy about their interest in adding an impact wide receiver during the offseason," Clay wrote. "It's fair to say their mission was accomplished when they fleeced Houston by landing one of the league's best pass-catchers in Hopkins in exchange for a package that included David Johnson. An absolute workhorse, Hopkins has averaged a target share of at least 30 percent while ranking no lower than 10th in targets, receptions, receiving yards and end zone targets each of the past three seasons."

Hopkins is on the shortlist of the very best receivers in the NFL, and now the 49ers must face him at least twice a season. The Texans received a laughable return in the trade as Arizona secured a true No. 1 target for reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray. It's quite possible that the Cardinals now are San Francisco's main competition in the NFC West, and Hopkins is a big part of that. Arizona pushed the 49ers to the brink in both of their matchups last year, and Hopkins should make them considerably scarier on offense.

[RELATED: 49ers stand to benefit from Seahawks' questionable moves]

So, yeah, the 49ers have had a good offseason, but clearly, they're not the only ones. 

NFL Week 1 odds: 49ers to open 2020 as big favorites over Cardinals

NFL Week 1 odds: 49ers to open 2020 as big favorites over Cardinals

The 49ers have opened up as heavy favorites over the Arizona Cardinals for Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season.

Various sportsbooks have the Niners listed as high as 10.5-point favorites (PointsBook USA) and as low as 7-point favorites (Caesars). 

DraftKings has them as an 8.5-point favorite and Westgate has them as an 8-point favorite. 

In the 2019 regular season, both the Cardinals and 49ers were profitable teams to bet on against the spread (ATS).

The Cardinals went 9-5-2 ATS and were an impressive 5-1-2 ATS on the road, per ActionNetwork. The Niners went 9-6-1 ATS, but didn't fare well at home, going just 3-4-1 ATS at Levi's Stadium. 

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Last season, the 49ers closed as a 10-point favorite in their Week 9 road matchup against the Cardinals. The Niners won 28-25, but did not cover.

In Week 11, they hosted the Cardinals and closed as a 9.5-point favorite at some books and a 10-point favorite at others. 

The 49ers won 36-26, but were trailing 26-23 with less than a minute to go in the fourth quarter, before Jeff Wilson Jr. scored the go-ahead touchdown with 37 seconds to go to put the 49ers up 30-26.

On the ensuing drive, the Cardinals fumbled on a last-ditch lateral attempt. D.J. Reed returned it for a touchdown as time expired to give the 49ers a 36-26 victory. The touchdown led to a miraculous cover or push for 49ers bettors. The Niners never covered the spread until the last second of the game. 

So together, the 49ers were 0-1-1 or 1-1 ATS facing the Cardinals last season depending on what line you got in that Week 11 game.

[RELATED: Game-by-game predictions for 49ers' season]

As far as the 2020 season goes, the reigning NFC champion 49ers return much of their roster.

The Cardinals, however, added DeAndre Hopkins via trade from the Houston Texans and drafted play-making linebacker Isaiah Simmons out of Clemson. They should be much improved from the rebuilding 5-10-1 team we saw last season.

Based on last year's games and the additions in Arizona, it seems like this spread is a little too high in favor of San Francisco.