The 2020 NFL draft gets underway on April 23 and will look a lot different than it has in recent years. The COVID-19 outbreak has forced the NFL to audible its planned three-day extravaganza in Las Vegas and will instead likely hold a studio show without the fanfare that normally accompanies the realization of a lifelong dream for the more than 250 prospects who will hear their name called.
In this running series, we'll profile several of those players. First up: Purdue tight end, Brycen Hopkins.
Hopkins, 22, attended Ensworth High School in Nashville, Tennessee where he was regarded as a two-star prospect as a high school recruit. A multi-sport star who initially focused on basketball, Hopkins turned his attention to football as a junior; as a result, he's still a relatively inexperienced player.
Hopkins' success on the gridiron isn't a surprise. He comes from NFL bloodlines. His father, Brad Hopkins, was an offensive lineman with the Tennessee Titans and enjoyed a 13-year career.
After redshirting his freshman year at Purdue, Hopkins' upside was evident in his first full season as a Boilermaker when he scored four touchdowns on just 10 receptions. His catches more than doubled during the 2017 season (25) before emerging as a viable NFL prospect in 2018 when he finished the year with 34 catches for 583 yards and three scores. This past season, Hopkins had career-highs across the board with 61 receptions for 830 yards and seven scores.
Physically, Hopkins possesses a slightly undersized build at 6-4, 245 pounds. He won't be much of a factor in the run game; he lacks the natural strength and anchor to win as an in-line player at the point of attack. But that won't be his calling card in the NFL.
Athletically, Hopkins is one of the most impressive tight end prospects in the 2020 NFL draft. His game speed matches his NFL Combine scores, where he ran a 4.66 40-yard dash. He maintains that speed with the pads on and will be an immediate threat against even the more athletic pro linebackers and safeties. Hopkins is a wide receiver in a tight end's body, which is an appealing and desired trait in today's NFL.
Hopkins is a schooled route-runner. He has loose hips and above-average twitch that allow him to get into and out of his breaks quickly and without wasted steps. He doesn't have to gear down or get choppy at the top of his route; he'll create separation on the next level, even at 245 pounds.
Hopkins is generally a reliable target, too. While there certainly are concentration drops on his resume, he's a high-effort receiver who plays with a my-ball mentality. He isn't limited to short and intermediate throws, either. He can stress the defense on seam routes and challenge safeties on the third level.
Whoever drafts Hopkins has to understand what he is. He's a pass-catcher first and foremost. Teams that deploy a power-running game and expect their tight end to put their hand in the dirt and bang heads at the line of scrimmage shouldn't have him high on their wish list. He isn't made for that role, even if he tries hard at it.
Instead, Hopkins is a less-explosive version of Evan Engram; treat him like a wide receiver with the benefit of calling him a tight end.
Hopkins won't be a first-round pick, nor should he be. His limitations as a run blocker and those concentration drops will give teams pause to spend a top-32 selection on him. That said, his game offers good value on Day 2 for a team searching for a pass-catching threat at the position.
GRADE: Late 2nd, Early 3rd