It’s standard to state that you always want to go against the best. And probably all the Bears’ defensive backs will say that, whether that was once Calvin Johnson over in Detroit or Randy Moss once upon a time in Minnesota.
But in Week 1, with two of their top three cornerbacks (Kyle Fuller and Bryce Callahan) battling injuries that kept them out of the last three preseason games, the NFL schedule-makers would be challenged to have found a more difficult matchup for the Bears.
DeAndre Hopkins ranked sixth in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage (1,507) and third in receptions (111) in 2015.
If there is anything working in the Bears’ favor — and if you are superstitious — it is that Hopkins is featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He's on one of four regional covers, emblematic of "The Next Wave" with the subtitle "the new game changers are here," making him the first Texan not named J.J. Watt to grace an SI cover since 2002.
And one current Bear knows very, very well why Hopkins gets the "game changer" designation.
"Hop is a special talent, there’s no doubt about that," said backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, who as Texans quarterback last season was on the launching end of many of Hopkins’ 111 catches. "We always said that if he’s singled up, just throw it to him and let him make the spectacular catch. He’s grown ... so obviously he’s becoming a really dependable No. 1 receiver."
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Some receivers live on speed. Some on route perfection. Hopkins lives on "just going up and getting the ball," Hoyer said, shaking his head. "Similar to Alshon (Jeffery); they’re a little different size, but I’ve never seen two guys who can go up, manipulate themselves and catch the ball. It’s uncanny, and that was what I came away most impressed by with Hop."
Hopkins was the first-round pick of the Texans in the 2013 draft, coming when Andre Johnson was the focal point of the Houston offense. That team went 2-14, Bill O’Brien replaced Wade Phillips as coach and the offense began tilting toward Hopkins, who netted 1,210 yards in 2014 and allowed the Texans to move on from Johnson and still make the playoffs.
Hopkins has not missed a start in three NFL seasons and was recognized with a Pro Bowl selection last season.
The specific problem for the Bears’ battered secondary is that Hopkins is very, very good at what the Bears haven’t been: grabbing the football. The Bears improved their takeaway quotient during the preseason, but they saw no one of Hopkins’ stature and they are not an overly physical secondary to begin with.
"He’s really good at the ball," defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. "He’s got a good catch radius, he’s strong, he can go get it. He was probably a good rebounder in his basketball days.
"We’ve got to win those 50-50 balls. That’s something that he’s really good at. We’re going to have to compete at the ball and win our fair share of those. We won’t win them all but hopefully we’ll be able to keep him in the park and not let him get over the top of us too much."