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2020 Draft Prospect TE Brycen Hopkins

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versatile playmaker with NFL genes

NCAA Football: Purdue at Penn State John Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Brycen Hopkins grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. Basketball was his sport. Being 6’ 5” it was a natural sport for him even though his father was a former Pro Bowl offensive tackle for the hometown Titans. Brad Hopkins played 13 years in the NFL all with the Titans franchise. Of course when he started the team was the Houston Oilers. He spent 9 years in Tennessee as a player and started 188 games for the franchise.

Because his father was one of the most beloved players in his hometown team’s history, many thought his son Brycen would be raised with a football in his hands. That was not the case as his father let him choose what he wanted to do.

“I didn’t want him doing anything he didn’t want to do himself,” Brad Hopkins said. “We talked about what people thought he should do, but I never gave him the impression that that’s what I wanted him to do. And I made sure I didn’t put any of my own expectations on him. If he wanted to be a painter, I wanted him to be the best painter he could possible be.”

Brycen didn’t start playing football until he was a junior in high school, which is kind of late. He didn’t expect people to believe he would be a star right away, but they did.

“It starts when people expect you to follow in the footsteps of your dad. Even though you want to go down a different path and make your own way. People thought I was a little late in starting to play football, but that didn’t keep them from putting pressure on me because of who my dad was,” Brycen said.

As it turns out he was pretty good, and it didn’t take long before he was a starter on offense.

“The way I look at it, is that the pressure I was under made me who I am today,” Hopkins said. “So I say, any pressure you have, bring it on. I enjoy it.”

His father could have helped him along the way, but he wanted his son to learn most of it on his own.

“Obviously, there are some basic fundamentals I could help him with,” Brad said. “It wasn’t anything from a technique standpoint. It was just little things, like finishing your plays and knowing what you’re doing before you get on the field. Just the minutiae about being a football player that makes your job easier.”

His play on the football field got him noticed by area scouts. Yet because he started so late with football he was just a 2 (Rivals) or 3 (247sports) star recruit. Even so it was his basketball ability that got him a scholarship to Purdue. Gerad Parker was the recruiting coordinator back then. He challenged Brycen to a pickup basketball game. Parker was impressed by how physical Brycen played against him that he offered him a scholarship right after the game.

Brycen is a tough kid with good size (6’ 3 3/4” 241 lbs). He is an above average athlete with deceptive speed. He is still a neophyte at the position but has a varied route tree which allows him to make plays all over the field. The one thing you would like a tight end to do is run the seam with speed and power.

This is the type of play you will see in the NFL. Hopkins runs the seam and makes a nice hands catch over the covering inside linebacker. He is going to get popped doing this, so it’s nice to see him put the ball away quickly then brace for the hit. You can prepare for the hit, but it is going to hurt. Hopkins play style reminds me of Zach Ertz, just in the way he moves on the field and makes plays with a burly body. He was measured at the Senior Bowl at 6’ 3 3/4” 241 lbs with 10 1/8” hands.

With hands like catcher’s mitts Hopkins makes contested catches look easy. He is especially skilled at high pointing balls while making catches. I think he just really likes doing that. What it also does is give the QB an extra large target to hit. If the throw is off slightly or too high, Hopkins can haul it in. It is also a safety net in the red zone. A high throw to the back of the end zone is either a TD or incomplete, not a turnover. Here is an example (one of many) of the high point ability of Hopkins.

Hopkins doesn’t get especially high off the ground on his leap, but he times it perfectly for a big gain. You also see two men around him as he was often covered by more than a single defender. Purdue was not a prolific offensive team (87th of 130 schools) so the main threats in the passing game were Hopkins and WR David Bell. Each player had 7 TDs, and only 1 other player had as many as 4 (TE Payne Durham...but he had only 9 receptions for the year).

You can do a lot of different things with Hopkins since he is versatile in his skillset. This is actually the first Purdue offensive play of the game against Wisconsin with a nice wrinkle in the play call by the offensive coordinator. This is made to look like a power run with Hopkins in the slot to the right side. He looks like he is crossing the formation on a seal block against the edge player on the left hand side of the defense.

The edge player actually avoids the contact as he goes after the running back. This play is beautiful and is very much like a Bill Walsh offensive play. Not coincidentally Purdue’s coach is Jeff Brohm who played in San Francisco in 1996 and 1997 (under George Seifert, but they were still running Walsh’s offense).

This type of play gets the offense started on the right foot and gives the QB some confidence. Walsh used to do this with Joe Montana. Even a 4 time Super Bowl champion needs a boost of confidence.

If you watch Hopkins on the play you see he doesn’t run like some burly tight end. He has a very fluid style about him, powerful but controlled. He gets the ball in his hands then heads upfield with speed. He is not a blazingly fast player, but he has good balance. The play looks like a little dump off pass but gains 25 yards.

I mentioned the red zone as a place Hopkins could shine. =This next GIF is a nice play design as the outside receiver on the right runs a clearout type post pattern to the center of the field. Hopkins in turn feigns a seam pattern then heads to the corner of the end zone.

The throw is late and floated so Hopkins has to wait for the ball. From the back of the end zone view you can see what Hopkins sees as he is waiting for the ball to arrive. It must have felt like the ball would never get there as you see 3 defenders racing towards Hopkins. The catch is even abbreviated as Hopkins doesn’t extend his arms completely. This is called “alligator arming a catch” as Hopkins catches the ball with his elbow close to his body to protect his ribs. As he gets up off the ground you can almost see the big sigh of relief just before he points to someone outside the end zone.

You have see a dump off, a seam pass, a corner end zone shot and an out pattern, but how about the usual tight end post up in the middle of the field? Glad you asked.

This is a play that is in every NFL, college, and even pee wee football offensive playbook for the “burly” tight end.

This is a basic play yet Hopkins still must settle down inside the zone and leave a window for his QB to throw into. The pass sails barely between two inside linebackers as Hopkins catches the pass then nicely tucks it away awaiting a big hit. He turns upfield quickly. He then does a nice job of spinning out of contact while keeping his momentum going forward. He even propels himself off the ground slightly as he dives into the end zone. This keeps his knees from touching the ground if the linebacker keeps a strong grip on his legs and pulls on him hard.

What are we missing now? How about speed?

Like I said, he isn’t a burner. He’s probably not as fast as Gronk when he first came into the NFL. Make no mistake, though. He is not slow. He is not some Chris Berman “Rumblin, Bumblin, stumblin” tight end. Here he is burning a safety who doesn’t respect his wheels.

Hopkins is in the slot with the safety playing off coverage. Hopkins comes off the snap with a good burst yet the safety has his feet stuck in mud. He doesn’t move until Hopkins is nearly on top of him. At that point he can do nothing to stop Hopkins from crossing his face and splitting Indiana’s deep coverage. Watch the nice hands catch from the fastball the QB puts on Hopkins. It is nearly effortless, very smooth.

Hopkins does drop the occasional pass. In fact, he does that too frequently. Remember, though, he has been playing football only since he was a junior in high school. Hard work and repetition will help make his hands more reliable. I’m sure of that.

Hopkins has a well rounded route tree. He is not your typical tight end. Here he is in the slot, but he is tight to the formation. He could run an out pattern or a drag route to the left. He could even block the edge or on the opposite side with a wham block. His coach probably does have all those plays in the playbook for him to run. Here is a play we used to call an inside post move where you are inline, release to the outside, and then come back to the center of the field for the reception.

This may be an atypical tight end pattern, but it ends like many tight end plays with a violent collision. Hopkins must first go outside then back inside to gain a throwing lane for his QB as he races with the inside linebacker in coverage. Once he catches the ball he must secure the ball because there is a safety who wants to put his shoulder pads in Hopkins’ ribs. It’s going to hurt whether you keep the ball or not so you might as well make the play and score. This is a tough guy play, and Hopkins proves he is a tough guy.

Here is another play from the route tree, the quick out pattern. This play is designed to get 6 to 7 yards. There is always a chance of making a player miss or breaking a tackle for additional yardage. What’s nice about a play like this using Hopkins is that a regular slot corner is too small to effectively cover a big tight end like him. He will just bully the corner or merely box him out. The corner can’t get close enough to the throw to make a play on the ball. Also an inside linebacker is not quick enough to cover an athletic tight end like Hopkins which could result in a big play.

This play is a perfect example of what I mean. The ILB in coverage is actually much smaller than Hopkins (6’ 1” 192 lbs). He doesn’t have great cover skills plus there is miscommunication between he and the safety. This route by Hopkins gets open quickly even though it’s poorly run. Hopkins rounds out his break. He is even leaning in the direction of his break before he makes it. Yet his his speed gets him open. Then after the missed tackle he is off to the races.

He is caught from behind finally by a man 50 lbs lighter than him, but this still results in a 41 yard gain.Athletically Hopkins doesn’t even look like a tight end. He is very fluid in his movements, but he still has much more power than a big wide receiver.

Having someone with the speed to get over the linebacker, then use size and athleticism to make a play is an asset most teams don’t have. Many teams have a speedy tight end, but can he make a play even when he is covered? This play is another good example of what I am trying to describe.

Here again is an inside linebacker who is smaller (6’ 1” 225 lbs) than Hopkins, but he can’t match the size and athleticism. Plays like this show the basketball background in Hopkins’ skillset. He feels very at ease going up to catch a ball as though he is getting a rebound. The size factor helps the advantage.

Side Note: It’s plays like these that show the advantage of having a well-rounded athletic involvement as a young man. Too many kids now only play one sport. They play football in the fall and go to AAU and camps in the spring. They are constantly working on one sport. It does hone a skillset, but you lose some of the advantages of multi-sport participation. You see here how basketball helps with jumping and using body leverage to create space. Baseball develops great hand eye coordination, agility, and arm strength. These are not things the player actively tries to work on. They are the benefit of the sport. The player’s body retains the muscle memory so as a player like Hopkins jumps he is just more efficient at it than a similar player who did not have that basketball background.

I’m getting off my high horse. I just thought I would mention it.

With that size the ability to get up for a ball and the capacity to high point a ball serves you well playing against defensive backs at a size disadvantage. This next play illustrates that fact in a decisive way. This is a 3rd and 17 play with the defense rushing only three men and dropping eight into coverage. Even with the three man rush they are still able to get pressure on the QB.

As the play unfolds the QB steps up but can’t run because there are two defenders coming up to force his hand. The throw is a long one into a sea of red with a single white jersey to vie for the ball. As Hopkins makes the catch there are four defensive players around him, but none of them could make a play. The throw was high, and the players pursuing could not affect the catch because of Hopkins’ size. This is a 38 yard play. With the way the ball was thrown only Hopkins could have caught it, or else it would have fallen incomplete. Hopkins is not as big as Gronk was, but he is as athletic and more agile with some extra elusiveness.

Sometimes it’s nice to get lucky once in a while as happens in this next play. This is a 3rd and 6 play where Nebraska has a nice blitz called that Purdue doesn’t see coming. There is a free runner, and the QB unloads in the direction of a receiver. He is hit, however, which makes the ball float. It is up for grabs with his team trailing in the 4th quarter.

I am pretty sure that Hopkins was not the intended target. I doubt with the limited time the QB had he could see where his big tight end was. What he could see was his left outside receiver over in the flat. The ball is short of its mark because of the hit on the QB by the blitzing linebacker. Hopkins releases on an out route from the slot. He is able to corral the ball before the Nebraska defender can make an easy interception.

Hopkins makes another nice leaping catch. Not only does it prevent the defense from making a big play. It gets the first down. As an old saying goes, “Luck is the residue of design.” I don’t know whether design actually works into a play like this, but I like a guy who can go up and get the ball.

This last play is the exact same play that Purdue used for their first play of the game against Wisconsin. The play is designed to have an easy throw for the QB but also get a playmaker out in the open field. When you use a tight end on the play the defense thinks he is there to throw a smash block so they avoid him.

I show you this play again for two reasons. First it is an easy play to run, and it usually has great results you can see here. Second you need a playmaking tight end to get the best results which Hopkins is.

There are a lot of “pass catching tight ends” who don’t have the toughness and power of Hopkins. He is a playmaker, but he can also be a wrecking ball when he needs to be.

Summary

Brycen Hopkins is a playmaking tight end who can run just about a full route tree, be a beast in the red zone, high point the ball at will, and be a safety valve for his QB. Amazingly, though, Hopkins is a poor blocker who has terrible technique and hand usage. Being that his father was a two time Pro Bowl offensive tackle, you would think that would be a strength of his.

It isn’t. It’s by far his worst trait.

I’m fairly confident that if Hopkins is drafted, and his team wants him to become a better blocker that he could become more proficient in a short period of time. It just takes coaching, practice and hard work.

I have Brycen Hopkins in the top 75 players in the 2020 NFL Draft at this time pending more information. He definitely has a above average offensive skillset and could be a viable weapon even in his first year in the right system. I have him for now a early third round grade on him, but I think he will probably go mid 2nd round as long as he doesn’t have a terrible Combine or have some other issue emerge.

He seems to be a quality kid who is more than worthy of his Draft grade.

What do you think?