DeAndre Hopkins: 'I'm the NFL's best receiver' -- with the hands to prove it

Baby animals in Hopkins' humongous hands (1:02)

Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is known for having among the biggest and best hands in the NFL. But what happens when he exchanges a football for baby animals? (1:02)

For ESPN The Magazine's Wide Receivers Issue, Stacey Pressman sat down with Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to talk about all things hands: those ridiculous one-handed catches, injuries -- and how many small animals he can fit in those 10-inch mitts. This interview has been edited for length.

"I THINK I'M the best wide receiver in the NFL. I work hard. I've wanted to put myself in that position to be the best wide receiver in the NFL, and I definitely think I'm putting my foot forward to make that claim. I think I have the best hands in the NFL. Not because I'm full of myself, but I think if you look at drops over the past three years, I'd say I'm at the top of that list. (Hopkins is right -- he grabbed 97 percent of catchable passes from 2012 to '14, best in the league.) When people say I have the best hands, that means you're the most consistent person at catching the football in the NFL. Most footballs that come your way, you're going to come down with the completion. That's exactly what that means."

"THIS WAS DEFINITELY the most fun photo shoot I've had. Got to play with some animals. Never petted a pig, and never held a mouse before. The chicklet was pretty cool. It was ticklish, but it didn't move. It was calmer than I expected, even though we had a little incident on my hand -- just a little poop, not too much. So it was definitely a joy and it was different and a lot of fun."

"LOOKING AT MY HANDS, I think about the catches I made -- like the one in the Giants game [on Sept. 21 last year]. A one-handed catch with my left hand. I'm predominantly right-handed, so for people who know me, that was a shocker that I caught it with my left hand. But it was just a reaction, me going up toward the ball. My body was going one way and the ball was going the other, and I really couldn't get the whole grip on the ball. So I think, if I'm not mistaken, I only caught the ball with maybe three fingers. I barely got my thumb on it. That was an awesome catch."

"AFTER THAT CATCH at the Giants game, I walked down the sidelines, and I really didn't get too many responses. My teammates are just in awe, for the most part. They're just shaking their heads. Just like, wow, did I really just see that? [laughs] A lot of people told me that was the best catch they've ever seen, on TV and in person. The guy from the Giants that made the one-handed catch on his helmet, David Tyree, he was on their sideline. He came over to me and he was like, man, wow, that was amazing. So for him to come up, opposing team, and to tell me how great of a catch that was, I knew it was pretty awesome."

"MY PINKIE TENDS to pop out of place a lot while I'm playing -- I just pop it back in. I notice it when I move my hand and it feels stiff. I mean, it's been happening my whole life. It's never broken -- just pops out of place real easy."

"I REALLY DIDN'T realize how big my hands were -- until you've got those little animals in it. And it's pretty neat to see, you know, wow, these little things can fit into my hand. The person that was helping me, it looked like the animal was taking up their whole hand, and when it got in mine, it was so small and tiny. It just makes you realize how big your hands are. The combine was three years ago, but my hands [10 inches] were definitely in the bigger percentile."

"THE SPECTACULAR CATCHES are the ones that you remember detail for detail. The ones with two hands, it's kind of routine. Those you really don't remember where you caught it, unless you kind of fumble the ball a little bit or unless it's a hard throw and it hits somewhere and you still feel it on the next play, like wow, you know, this ball hit me on my wrist and it hurt because the tip of the ball. But I remember more so the spectacular catches, exactly where, how my fingers were, where I fell."

"THESE HANDS HAVE plenty of calluses. I've been catching footballs -- I've been a wide receiver since I was 15 years old. And every quarterback I've had, for the most part, threw a pretty hard ball. So I'm not getting away from the calluses. Ryan Mallett, who used to play for us here at the Texans, not too long ago, he probably had the hardest ball I've caught in my years of playing football. He's 6-foot-7, you know, long arms. His ball had a lot of velocity behind it."

"PEOPLE THINK CATCHING a football one-handed is a technique, but it's more a reaction. Because you really don't think about it when you're doing it. You just do it. I couldn't sit there and try to teach someone how to catch a one-handed football. It's more so going out there and doing it. You can practice on the jug [Jugs type] machine, catching a football. But that's not realistic. You see people doing it on TV, catching one hand jug machines. But in a game, you're going to have people around you, you're going to be running, you're not just going to be standing still. So there's really no way you can really work on a one-handed catch. ... It's just a reaction."

"WHEN THE BALL hits your hands, you kind of have to expect it. You can't be lackadaisical, or you'll drop it. So you almost have to have your hands ready, at a tight position, kind of squeezing almost -- but not too much because you don't want to squeeze too hard or you'll squeeze it out. So you're taught to catch the football certain ways. But if you can't get your hands on it, you don't want your hands to be flat or the ball will bounce off. So you kind of want to have a little pocket for it, if it hits, where it just absorbs it. ... You have to be ready because sometimes you're not able to get your hands up how you wanted to. So that's when it's a hard ball to catch."

"I BROUGHT MY dog, Yogi, to the shoot, too. Man, I love that dog. English bulldog. Definitely one of the best dogs in the world. Easy to train. He was a little outgoing in there. I think the cameras kind of starstruck him a little bit. He wasn't ready for that today. But yeah, Yogi, 16 weeks old, his first photo shoot. I'm not sure it'll be his last. [laughs]"

Prop styling by Julie Whitmire