Texans' DeAndre Hopkins never satisfied in quest 'for greatness'

DeAndre Hopkins had more receptions in his first six years than any player in NFL history, but he always sees room for improvement. Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP

HOUSTON -- Early in training camp, fresh off of being activated from the physically unable to perform list, DeAndre Hopkins wasn’t satisfied with the way he ran a drill.

So he went back and did it again.

The Houston Texans wide receiver said he did it over because he strives “for greatness,” and he knows that starts on the practice field.

“If I drop a ball, I’m going to beat myself up, or if I go out and a rep isn’t perfect, I feel like I’ve got to do it again,” Hopkins said. “Repetition makes perfect.”

Hopkins is coming off his second straight All-Pro season, but he is quick to point out there’s a lot to work on. In 2018, Hopkins caught a career-high 115 passes for 1,572 yards, and his 11 touchdowns ranked fifth in the NFL. Hopkins had 56 more receptions than any other Texans player in 2018, tying the largest difference between the first and second receivers on a team, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Hopkins enters his seventh season with 528 career receptions, and despite playing with nine different starting quarterbacks during his time in Houston, that is the most catches by any player in his first six seasons in NFL history.

Andre Johnson, who played with Hopkins in his rookie season and is now a special adviser to coach Bill O’Brien, helping primarily with the receivers, said he has seen a difference in the player Hopkins is now compared to his first year in the league.

“When he first got here, he just always believed in, 'Hey, just throw the ball up and I’ll catch it,'” Johnson said. “He wasn’t about really running plays and understanding the game.

“I always knew he had great ball skills, and it showed year in and year out, but he understands the game a lot now. He finds the open spaces on the field. ... So just to see him go from that point to where he is now is awesome.”

Even before Johnson took a role with the Texans’ coaching staff this year, Hopkins was looking to him for advice. This offseason, Hopkins watched film from last season with Johnson, picking the brain of the Texans’ all-time leading receiver.

“Even though he's not out on the field, he's still trying to find ways to get better as a player,” Johnson said.

Hopkins especially values Johnson’s opinion, he says, because he believes Johnson “had the best season as a Houston Texans wide receiver, so I still feel like I’m trying to beat that.” Johnson’s highest-yardage season came in 2012, when he caught 112 passes for 1,598 yards. Hopkins came close to eclipsing both of those totals last season, and he does hold the franchise record for touchdowns in a season when he led the NFL with 13 receiving touchdowns in 2017.

After winning the AFC South championship, the Texans lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Indianapolis Colts, a game in which Hopkins seriously injured a shoulder. Wide receivers coach John Perry said he sat down with Hopkins to talk about what the veteran could do to improve.

Perry said he makes videotapes of 15 good plays and 15 bad plays for all of his players to show them what they’re doing really well and what they need to work on.

“We’ll bring in tape of other players that we’d compare to DeAndre, and we’d say, ‘OK, here’s how he handles that. Could we do that?’ So those are kind of the exercises,” Perry said.

Last year as a group, Perry said the team focused on not dropping passes. After that, according to Perry, Hopkins and receiver Will Fuller did not drop a single pass all year.

“The one thing I keep trying to point out to these guys is, whatever they put their mind to, I know they can accomplish it,” Perry said. “And that’s because they’re really talented, but sometimes you need someone just to bring a little bit of focus to that."

This year, Perry said Hopkins “wants to be a great route runner.”

“That’s a premium in our offense,” Perry said. “[Hopkins has] obviously got the best hands in the world. Everybody’s seen that on a weekly basis, so I think the biggest thing is, 'How can I improve my top of route? How can I improve my releases?' If those two things improve to the level in which I knew he will put the time into and the dedication into, I think you’re going to see him get even better.

"I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the last two years he’s first-team All-Pro. He comes out, he works on his weaknesses.”

Perry has also seen growth in Hopkins’ leadership in the receivers room. Hopkins is constantly pointing out things he thinks would help his fellow receivers.

“Whether on the sideline or during games, he’d be pointing out, ‘Oh, when they do this, we can always do this. Have Will [Fuller] do this.’ Things like that,” Perry said. “He wants to win. He’s a team-first guy. Winning is paramount. He knows that he’s a big part of our winning because of what he does, but that doesn’t surprise me that that’s the approach ... with the younger players.”

And although Hopkins has played in all but one game of his six-year NFL career -- while playing through many injuries -- O’Brien said he knows the Texans need that trend to continue.

“He works at [improving],” O’Brien said. “He works in the film room. He works on his own. He works at practice.

"He plays the game hard. He plays Sundays very, very hard, and he plays a very physical style. I think the biggest thing for him is ... taking care of his body and being as healthy as he possibly can."