DeAndre Hopkins being suspended for the first six games of the 2022 NFL season is bad enough news for the Arizona Cardinals. It could get worse, though, especially if a bleak scenario about how Hopkins might play once he returns proves true.
One sports editor who used to cover the Cards for the team’s official site made a worrying comparison between Hopkins situation and that of a former Cardinals’ All-Pro.
Like Hopkins, Patrick Peterson was hit with a six-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy. It happened in 2019 and began the slow but steady decline of a player who had emerged as one of the top cornerbacks in football.
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Will Hopkins suffer a similar reversal of form once he returns this season?
Peterson Comparison Should Worry Hopkins
Betting editor Kyle Odegard, who worked on Cardinals.com from 2013-21, pointed out how Peterson and Hopkins were roughly the same age when their bans were enforced. Peterson, at least, was never the same after:
He wasn’t able to rediscover the magic that made him a three-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro-Bowler with the Cardinals. Peterson ended up joining the Minnesota Vikings in 2021 after the Cards opted not to re-sign him in free agency, a decision that caught Peterson by surprise.
Hopkins’ situation has eerie similarities.
He was suspended on Monday, May 2, for “violating the NFL’s Performance Enhancing Drug policy,” per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Although he had the opportunity to appeal, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Hopkins opted to withdraw from that process.
Instead, Hopkins took to Twitter to release a statement to express his surprise at the way events unfolded: “I am very mindful of what I put in my body and have always taken a holistic approach, so I am working with my team to investigate how this could’ve happened.”
Regardless of Hopkins’ private investigation, the Cardinals are still slated to be without him for the first six games of a pivotal season. This is a campaign where Hopkins would’ve been under the spotlight anyway.
He’s endured some ebbs and flows since being traded to Arizona from the Houston Texans in 2020. Hopkins cost a second and a fourth-round pick, as well as running back David Johnson.
What he’s given in return is 1,407 yards in his first season with the Cardinals, but just 572 in his second. Hopkins missed seven games last season with hamstring and knee injuries.
It’s not unreasonable to ask if Hopkins is already on borrowed time with the Cardinals. Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Phoenix radio host John Gambadoro added financial cost to Hopkins’ age to explain why the team could part ways next year:
A third factor may be even more important. Namely, if the Cardinals prove they can cope without Hopkins, something they didn’t manage in 2021.
Pressure on Cardinals to Perform Without ‘Nuk’
Not having Hopkins in the lineup stymied what had been an explosive Cardinals offense last season. Specifically, his absence impacted quarterback Kyler Murray the most, as numbers from ESPN Stats & Info showed:
It’s a crucial year for Murray, whose future with the team has been the subject of intense speculation for most of this offseason. He wants a new deal, but the 24-year-old is under pressure to prove he deserves to get paid.
Not being able to rely on Hopkins for six games will hurt Murray’s chances, but it needn’t be a fatal blow. Especially since the Cardinals traded a first-round pick to the Baltimore Ravens for Murray’s teammate at Oklahoma, Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown.
Subsequent developments with Hopkins make the Brown deal look like an inspired move. There’s no doubt a Murray to Brown connection will help ensure the Cardinals can still take the top off of defenses.
Aside from Brown, what Hopkins’ suspension has done is make sense of the decision to bring A.J. Green back on a one-year deal. Green wasn’t great last season, tallying just 848 yards and scoring a mere three touchdowns.
He’s 33 and past his best, but Green’s experience should prove vital in helping other receivers handle the burden of picking up the slack in Hopkins’ absence. One of those replacement wideouts is second-year man Rondale Moore, who may be able to continue acting as a roving weapon, the way he did as a rookie in 2021, with Green and Brown working the outside.
The middle of the field should continue to be the purview of tight end Zach Ertz. He re-upped for three years on the eve of free agency, and Ertz can build on the value he showed when Hopkins was out last season, per RotoBaller’s Adam Koffler:
Having Ertz, Brown, Green and Moore, along with the returning James Conner on the ground, should mean Arizona’s offense is in safe hands, despite being sans Hopkins. If that proves to be the case, Hopkins will have a lot to do to prove he still merits go-to status among Murray’s supporting cast once he returns.
The best-case scenario would be ‘Nuk’ coming back for game seven and immediately tapping in to the immense reserves of talent that made him one of the premier receivers in the game.