Fantasy Fallout: Nuk Flies to the Desert


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Fantasy Fallout: Nuk Flies to the Desert

In one of the most mind-blowing trades in NFL history, the directionless Texans dealt All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins (and a 4th-round pick!) to Arizona for David Johnson and the Cardinals 2nd- and 4th-round picks in 2020.

The fantasy impact of the Hopkins trade is far-reaching. Let’s break it all down:

Nuk’s Outlook in Arizona

YearStarting QBsTargets (Rank)Yards per Route RunFantasy PPG
2013Schaub/Keenum91 (43rd)70th-of-94WR67
2014Fitzpatrick/Keenum/Mallett127 (20nd)13th-of-90WR18
2015Hoyer/Mallett/Yates/Weeden192 (3rd)10th-of-85WR5
2016Osweiler/Savage151 (7th)50th-of-96WR35
2017Watson/Savage/Yates174 (2nd)4th-of-93WR2
2018Watson163 (5th)5th-of-96WR3
2019Watson150 (6th)21st-of-86WR6

A lot of the initial reaction to the trade was that this is, somehow, a slight downgrade for DeAndre Hopkins’ fantasy stock. The Fantasy Points staff doesn’t see it that way. Sure, Hopkins has been force-fed the rock in Houston as their only consistent wide receiver option and his massive 28-30% target share that he saw with the Texans is going to decline. That’s all true. Even though Nuk’s target load won’t reach 30% in Arizona, he can make up for it playing in the fast-paced, pass-heavy Cardinals attack.

Even with a banged-up Christian Kirk and a past-prime Larry Fitzgerald as his two main targets, Kyler Murray and Kliff Kingsbury still ran one of the NFL’s most fantasy-friendly attacks in 2019. Arizona ran one of the fastest offenses in the NFL last year, ripping off plays at the NFL’s 5th-fastest rate (seconds in between plays). Houston ranked 15th in pace. The Cardinals were also 12th in pass rate (60.4%) while the Texans were only 57.4% pass-heavy (10th-lowest rate).

Despite not having close to enough receiver talent to perfectly execute Kingsbury’s Air Raid attack, the Cardinals still used four wide receivers on the field on one-third of their plays. In fact, they were the only team in the league to use four or more wideouts on the field on more than 10% of their plays.

Hopkins is still only 28-years-old, he hasn’t come close to showing any signs of his skills declining, and has routinely produced even in the worst of situations. Per our own Scott Barrett, Hopkins has averaged at least 79 yards per game with every starting quarterback the Texans threw at him… except Brock Osweiler. Hopkins is a proven alpha wideout who is completely immune to quarterback play, unless it’s bad B.O. I’m expecting Murray and Hopkins to immediately form one of the league’s most dynamic tandems in 2020.

2020 is Kyler Murray’s Season

Murray had one of the worst supporting casts in the NFL last year. In an offense that predicates on 4-WR sets, throwing to a 36-year-old Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk (who missed 3 games with an ankle injury), Damiere Byrd, and KeeSean Johnson is not optimal. By the end of the year, Kingsbury stopped running his 4-WR offense because the Cardinals didn’t have enough talent at receiver and Kirk was operating at less than 100 percent health. Despite a poor offensive line and receiving corps, Murray still managed to finish his rookie season as the QB12 in fantasy points per game

Adding Hopkins changes everything.

Now, the Cardinals can comfortably play 4-WR sets as often as they’d like -- especially if Andy Isabella takes a big step forward in his second season. Don’t forget that the Cardinals also have Hakeem Butler stashed after he missed his entire rookie season with a severe finger injury. Trading for Hopkins also gives GM Steve Keim the flexibility to hone in on an offensive tackle at No. 8 overall in the NFL Draft, a position of severe need in Arizona.

The 2020 season is going to be the year of Kyler Murray and he’s going to cost you at least a 5th-round pick in re-draft/best ball leagues this year. In the meantime, we’ve moved Murray above Watson as our QB3 for dynasty/keeper leagues.

Watson’s Outlook Without Nuk

Sadly, losing Hopkins is a downgrade to Deshaun Watson’s fantasy stock. Watson has never played an NFL game without Hopkins on the field and his 2020 cast of weapons isn’t exactly what you’d call inspiring. Texans czar Bill O’Brien has decided to replace Hopkins by giving 30-year-old Randall Cobb nearly $19M in guaranteed money and is banking on Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks staying healthy. Good luck with that. Also, because of the Laremy Tunsil/Kenny Stills trade from last year, Houston won’t make their first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft until 40 overall (they traded their second #2 pick, 57 overall, for Cooks). This essentially eliminates any possibility of getting one of the top-6 wideouts in a stacked rookie class.

Instead of keeping (and paying) Hopkins, the Texans are going to rely on production from a 4-WR trio of Fuller, Stills, Cooks, and Cobb and pray that David Johnson isn’t washed. Including Duke Johnson, the Texans now have two running backs who are best suited as receiving specialists playing with a quarterback that doesn’t check down. Because he’s always looking to aggressively push the ball down field or scramble when the play breaks down, Watson only targeted his running backs on 14.7% of his throws last year. That was the third-lowest rate in the NFL behind only Jared Goff (10%) and Ryan Tannehill (12.6%). Fortunately, he has receivers who can run, but two of them — Cooks and Fuller — are frequently injured, and none of them are the contested-catch specialist that Hopkins is.

Watson is going to have to put the Texans on his back more than ever this coming season.

Graham Barfield blends data and film together to create some of the most unique content in the fantasy football industry. Barfield is FantasyPoints’ Director of Analytics and formerly worked for the NFL Network, Fantasy Guru, and Rotoworld.