All the talk and rumors surrounding the possibility of the Patriots signing DeAndre Hopkins somewhat miss the point.
As noted below, many questions about Hopkins and a better option are available.
Is Hopkins a good fit with the Patriots?
Hopkins reportedly doesn’t enjoy practice and, without consistent practice time, it is hard to see how Hopkins earns the requisite trust of Mac Jones. As Phil Perry of NBC Sports Boston said of Hopkins:
"He's probably not going to be a precise route-runner, which might not be ideal for a timing-and-rhythm-based passing game like the one that's expected to be run by offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien and operated by quarterback Mac Jones."- Phil Perry, NBC Sports Boston
Will Hopkins be durable?
Hopkins played in only nine games in 2022 and ten games in 2021.
As Hopkins just turned 31, it is unclear how many miles are left on the tires. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect Hopkins to play more than one or two years with the Patriots. The Pats would be very lucky to get an entire season out of Hopkins in any year.
How much would Hopkins cost?
All reports are that Hopkins is looking for a contract similar to that of Odell Beckham, Jr., who signed a deal valued at up to $18 million with the Baltimore Ravens.
So we are looking at a deal in the neighborhood of $15-18 million for a short-term rental.
Does Hopkins still have the skill to make the investment worth it?
Opinions differ. Many have cited Hopkins's ability to get open and make contested catches. According to the Athletic, however, “Unfortunately, Hopkins often is covered, does not stretch the field with his speed and struggles to separate versus tight man coverage.”
Is there a better choice?
Hopkins may not be the best fit or choice for the Patriots to improve their wide receiver room.
There is another wide receiver who the Patriots should make every effort to obtain. He’s not a free agent but should be available via a trade with Belichick-bud Josh McDaniels.
In 2019, in the 5th round of the NFL draft, the Las Vegas Raiders selected an underappreciated slot receiver from Clemson named Hunter Renfrow. In four seasons with the Raiders, Renfrow has accumulated 252 receptions while scoring 17 touchdowns.
Is Renfrow available?
Yes, for the right price.
The Raiders have a very crowded wide receiver room right now, and too many of those receivers are competing for the slot receiver role.
In addition to signing wide receiver Jakobi Meyers to a 3-year deal in free agency, the Raiders drafted wide receiver Tre Tucker with the 100th pick in the 3rd round. For the Patriots, Meyers played 69.5% of his snaps in the slot in 2022.
How was Tucker used with Cincinnati? Tucker played 96.5% of snaps lined up in the slot for the Bearcats in 2022.
Can Renfrow still play?
Renfrow had a down year in 2022 due to injuries and only had 36 receptions in 10 games played.
In 2021, when Renfrow was fully healthy, he had 111 receptions and 490 yards after catch (YAC), exceeding the 487 YAC that JuJu Smith-Schuster posted while playing with Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Kansas City Chiefs offense (statistics derived from Pro Football Focus).
Renfrow is just 27 years old and likely has at least 4 or 5 effective years left.
How much would Renfrow cost?
Renfrow is signed through 2024 on a contract that is due to pay him $19.11 million over the next 2 years. That’s a reasonable price compared to the approximately $11 million per year that both JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jacobi Meyers can expect to earn.
Would Renfrow fit in with the Patriots?
Like Smith-Schuster, Renfrow can play outside as well as in the slot; in 2022, Renfrow played 35.2% of snaps in a wide position and 36.4% in 2021.
Renfrow and Smith-Schuster could be used like two interchangeable pieces, moving them around between the outside and the slot, making it very difficult for opposing defenses. Renfrow is a sure-handed receiver who caught 82.2% of targets in 2022. Renfrow could be the security blanket for Mac Jones, a QB who frequently likes to get the ball out quickly.
Will the Patriots trade for Renfrow?
Once upon a time, not so long ago, Bill Belichick feasted on grabbing guys that other teams under-valued—players like Kyle Van Noy, Rob Ninkovich, David Patten, and Mike Vrabel.
One of those under-valued players was Wes Welker, who Belichick obtained in 2007 in exchange for 2nd and 7th-round draft picks. Welker responded with 741 receptions and 41 touchdowns in 6 seasons with the Patriots. Let’s see if Belichick still has the skill and acumen to pull off that kind of move again.