A Change of Scenery
Football fans and fantasy owners alike can always count on a fair number of changes during each NFL offseason. Players are cut and traded every year, while others finish out their contracts and choose to sign with new teams.
Arguably the first big trade of the 2020 offseason was between the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans, in which the Texans traded DeAndre Hopkins, a 2020 2nd round pick, and a 2021 4th round pick for David Johnson and a 2020 4th round pick. This trade was surprising to many, and has led to plenty of speculation about how both players will perform on their new teams. Is it an upgrade? A downgrade? A lateral move? Let’s find out.
Since being drafted by the Texans in 2013, DeAndre Hopkins was the future WR1. Andre Johnson was getting older and his dismissal from the team was imminent. When Johnson was released by the Texans at the end of the 2014 season, Hopkins stepped up and became not only the Texans WR1 but a fantasy superstar. Hopkins was the definition of consistency despite erratic quarterback play, and he continued to put up big numbers for fantasy owners.
In 2017 Texans fans and fantasy football fans alike rejoiced when the team drafted Deshaun Watson. A more consistent quarterback was just what Hopkins needed to remain in the elite receiver category. After playing with Watson for three years, Hopkins finished as the WR2, WR1, and WR5, and should’ve enjoyed a future as the Texans’ number-one WR. Instead, in a move that had many people scratching their heads, Bill O’Brien traded Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals.
What to Expect
Texans fans may be distraught over the loss of Hopkins, but fantasy football owners likely won’t need to worry too much about this move. The Cardinals are a throw-first team and targeted their receivers 70% of the time last season, whereas Houston targeted their receivers 64% of the time. Even with the lower target percentage, Hopkins saw 150 targets in Houston during the 2019 season and has averaged 162 targets over the last three seasons. Moving to a team with a higher pass percentage should at minimum result in a comparable number of targets for Hopkins, even playing alongside Larry Fitgerald and Christian Kirk.
There are some concerns, as is the case with any trade. Hopkins will need to learn a new system and build chemistry with Murray, and he’ll have a bit more competition (Larry Fitzgerald is, after all, one of the greats). However, it’s important to remember that Hopkins is an elite receiver in the prime of his career, and he should easily move into the WR1 spot.
For fantasy owners, Hopkins’s move to Arizona seems to be a lateral one. He shouldn't have a problem learning the system and building a rapport with Kyler Murray. The targets should be there for DeAndre to succeed; at worst, he’ll likely replicate his numbers from his last 3 seasons in Houston. It would be a safe bet to label him as a top 5 receiver moving forward with upside to finish higher. Hopkins has been one of the best receivers in the league for some time and shows no sign of slowing down.
David Johnson was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2015 and started off as a kick returner and a change of pace back. When starter Andre Ellington was injured during the season, Johnson emerged ready to take the league by storm. He started 5 games his rookie season and rushed for a respectable 581 yards and 8 touchdowns. In 2016, Johnson exploded and finished as the Cardinals’ RB1. He was seemingly unstoppable, and evidently felt so confident that he set an ambitious goal for the 2017 season: to be a 1,000 yard rusher and 1,000 yard receiver, something that had only been accomplished twice in NFL history (In 2019 Christian McCaffrey became the 3rd).
Unfortunately, that goal was just a pipe dream. Johnson broke his wrist in the season opener and missed the rest of the 2017 season. He returned in 2018 but never looked quite the same. His numbers were low, and he seemed sluggish and almost washed up. Things continued to go downhill in 2019: the Cardinals hired coach Kliff Kingsbury, who implemented a new offense that didn’t work for Johnson. Halfway through the season, the team traded for Kenyan Drake, who ran wild while a banged-up Johnson saw less playing time. His career in Arizona finally came to an end in 2020, when he was traded with a second-round pick to the Houston Texans for DeAndre Hopkins.
What to Expect
David Johnson may have struggled recently, but this move will likely be a positive one. He could benefit from playing under Bill O’Brien, whose system has featured a running back in the past. Last year Carlos Hyde had 245 rushing attempts, while Duke Johnson only saw 83. David Johnson will likely fill the hole left by Carlos Hyde’s departure, and if he sees the same volume Hyde did last year, he should be able to put up solid fantasy numbers.
Houston also has some great weapons on offense in Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks. Both receivers have a long list of past injuries, but David Johnson should benefit from their presence (or lack thereof). If healthy, they should help open up the run game by stretching the field vertically and taking defenders out of the box. If they continue to be injured, Houston will rely on its running backs, creating more volume for Johnson.
A fresh start is just what David Johnson needs to jump start his career. Last year in Arizona it was tough to decipher if injuries were taking a toll or if the new offensive scheme was a poor fit. Johnson didn't look like the player he once was, which led to Kenyan Drake taking over the starting role. Johnson should benefit from the scheme in Houston and should be effective in the passing game. He’s shown in the past that he can be a three-down running back, and an elite one at that. If Johnson can stay healthy, he should get enough volume to be an RB2 with upside.