I don’t condone overthinking in fantasy but I’m certainly not an advocate of under-thinking. So let’s do some thinking.
One question I’m asked often, particularly during the chats I do every Thursday on this fine website (we’re actually doing it on Wednesday this week), is how much do matchups matter? I think the easy answer is that it matters way more in daily fantasy than it does in season-long. That’s an important distinction to make.
For example, Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins has been a stud this year but Sunday he went up against Jets CB Darrelle Revis, who is usually regarded as one of the league’s top defensive backs. I started Hopkins in two of my season-long leagues but the bad matchup gave me an excuse to fade him on FanDuel. The thinking here is that you go with your best players regardless of opponent in season-long while the freedom of one-week fantasy allows you to avoid riskier matchups in favor of sure things, particularly in cash lineups.
What I didn’t take into account is that there’s no such thing as a risky matchup when Hopkins is involved. Revis Island usually isn’t a fun place for opposing wideouts, but after all the fun he had on Sunday, Hopkins might buy a timeshare there. Hopkins shredded the league’s richest cornerback like he was grating Parmesan cheese. Hopkins’ marvelous performance included five catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
We’ll start off with a little appetizer before the main course. There’s nothing particularly notable about this play except that it went for a first down.
With Revis shutting down the boundaries, teams have been attacking the middle of the field all year against the Jets. This was a nice little quick-hitter to get things started. It also set up the next play, a deep bomb that easily could have gone for a 69-yard touchdown had quarterback T.J. Yates hit his mark. Just like he did most of the afternoon, Hopkins had no trouble blowing past Revis.
Hopkins’ speed is kind of an interesting point of discussion. The truth is, he’s not a burner. During the 2013 NFL combine he recorded the 10th-slowest 40 time out of 38 receivers, clocking in at a relatively unimpressive 4.57. The slow 40 didn’t end up hurting him—he was the second wide receiver drafted behind West Virginia’s Tavon Austin—but speed has never been his calling card.
Darrelle Revis, who once upon a time ran a 4.38 40, seems to have lost a step at age 30. It’s actually not the first time we’ve seen him struggle to keep up with a younger wide receiver this year. Allen Robinson dusted him for 121 yards on five catches in Week 9. Then again, Revis had no problem shutting down Sammy Watkins last week. Coincidentally, Hopkins and Watkins were once teammates at Clemson.
Having nothing to do with Hopkins, this was an excellent drive by the Houston offense. In the absence of Brian Hoyer, the Texans resorted to trickery with Cecil Shorts and Jonathan Grimes both taking snaps out of the wildcat. Yates even threw a pass to J.J. Watt on the goal line, though he couldn’t reel it in.
The 16-play, eight-minute drive only led to a field goal, but it kept the ball out of New York’s possession and gave the defense plenty of time to recover. The Texans broke out another trick play in the second half with Shorts throwing a 21-yard flea flicker to Alfred Blue for the game-winning touchdown.
Hopkins may not be known for his speed, but he makes up for it with his precise route running. The next play is a perfect example. Revis doesn’t give him much breathing room but Hopkins still comes away with a nice back-shoulder catch for a 14-yard pickup.
And check out that swagger.
I’m not the world’s greatest lip reader but obviously Hopkins feels pretty good about himself. As you can see, things got a little chippy on the next play.
If you’re the Texans, you don’t want Hopkins to back down but you also don’t want him to lose his cool. As Revis and Hopkins back away, you can see there’s no animosity between them. It’s just an intense moment between two great competitors.
Last week, Hopkins made an incredible one-handed catch against Bengals cornerback Pacman Jones for the game-winning touchdown. This week, he had two great one-handed plays including this 18-yard grab against Revis in the first half.
One reason Hopkins is able to make plays like this is because of his massive hands. His pre-draft hand measurement was 10 inches, the same size as Odell Beckham, another player known for his one-handed catches. This was pretty good coverage until Revis pulled up to see where the ball was. That slight pause gave Hopkins just enough space to carve out a first down.
You know you’ve arrived when even your plays that don’t count are being shown on highlight reels the next day. This was the second of three incompletions in a row to Hopkins, who couldn’t keep his second foot inbounds.
Yates deserves credit for not shying away from Hopkins even with Revis in close pursuit. Though Yates only completed 16-of-34 passes on Sunday including five of 12 to Hopkins, I thought he did a nice job finding Hopkins in tight spaces like this one. When you’re a backup making a spot start (Brian Hoyer missed this game with a concussion), there’s really no reason to hold back. Yates seized the moment by making a number of daring throws on Sunday. What does he have to lose, right?
Speaking of daring throws, how about this one to Hopkins for a 61-yard touchdown? It comes on play-action, which gives Hopkins a little more time to get downfield. Realizing that Hopkins has a step on him, Revis goes for broke and tries to make the interception. With no man left to beat, Hopkins is able to walk into the end zone for six points. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Revis get burned like this.
Revis wasn’t around for Hopkins’ next touchdown. He suffered a concussion in the third quarter and had to leave the game. CBS announcer Rich Gannon shared an anecdote about his old coach Jon Gruden during the broadcast. Whenever a new cornerback entered the game, Gruden would immediately call a play to target that defender.
The Texans used a similar strategy by going after Marcus Williams on his second play. He was no match for Hopkins, who smoked him for a 20-yard score. Hopkins pushed off a little to gain separation but not enough to be flagged for pass interference. This would be Hopkins’ last catch of the game as the Texans were able to milk the clock and come away with a 24-17 victory.
Hopkins, who recently became the third-youngest player to reach 200 catches and 3,000 receiving yards, has accounted for 31.5 percent of Houston’s completions this year. He’s also responsible for 31.9 percent of the team’s targets and 37.4 percent of their receiving yards. None of that is by accident.
From now on, don’t look at the matchup. Just trust that Hopkins will get the job done.