NFL Free Agency Fantasy Fallout: DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals, David Johnson joins Texans in major deal
The Texans and Cardinals struck a deal to send David Johnson to Houston and DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. Ben Gretch breaks down what it means for Fantasy Football.
We're only hours into the legal tampering period, but we have our first bombshell. The Houston Texans are trading star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Cardinals in a deal that sends David Johnson back to the Texans, as well as a second-round pick, in a trade that has major ramifications for both teams.
Johnson being moved doesn't come as a major surprise, particularly as the Cardinals needed to shed running back salary after deciding earlier Monday to Brock Osweiler plus a second-round pick that became Nick Chubb to the rebuilding Browns.. Because of Johnson's contract, Arizona was always likely going to have to offer a draft pick to facilitate this type of deal in what amounts to a salary dump — much like when Houston traded
The shocking part of this deal concerns DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has obviously been an elite performer in Houston, and his departure is a significant blow to a Texans' passing game that has been anchored by his reliability since Deshaun Watson took over at quarterback. Will Fuller is notoriously prone to injury, and Houston is otherwise thin at the position. Let's get into the fallout for both teams.
Houston likely to add another receiver
In adding David Johnson, Houston now has two of the league's best pass-catching running backs. That's a little bit odd, as Watson hasn't thrown to the position at a particularly high rate in his career. Duke Johnson, acquired last offseason for a third-round pick, had a career-low 44 receptions last season, and Houston chose to utilize early-down grinder Carlos Hyde more frequently than Duke's multifaceted skill set.
I'm pessimistic the addition of David Johnson will mean huge Fantasy production from this backfield. One thing Hyde did well last year was rush efficiently between the tackles, and while David Johnson has that ability at plus size, Duke Johnson's career rushing efficiency is heavily influenced by when his carries come — as a passing downs back, he's typically running against lighter fronts.
David Johnson would then seem to be the logical replacement for Hyde's role, yet he has never been a particularly efficient back between the tackles, and seemed to lose a lot of burst this past season. It's not clear how much of that was injury-related, and with the amount of money he's owed it seems likely he'll get the chance to handle a solid workload in Houston, but Houston will need to get very creative with two-back sets — ideally splitting one or both backs out frequently — if we're to see significant Fantasy value out of two backs who both make their hay in the passing game.
Meanwhile, Watson is now without a No. 1. I'm very high on Fuller's talent, but from both stylistic and durability standpoints he isn't a logical replacement for Hopkins. Kenny Stills has fewer durability concerns, but he's similarly a downfield threat. The Texans incorporated their tight ends more last season, and they do still have considerable depth at the position behind Darren Fells and Jordan Akins, with Kahale Warring and even Jordan Thomas as potential options.
But expect Houston to add a receiver in a draft that is heavy on talent at the position, possibly even with the second-round pick they acquired in this deal. That rookie would have a legitimate shot to be an impact player in 2020, and this suddenly becomes one of the best landing spots for this class. Houston likely doesn't have the draft equity to land one of the very top names, but a highly-productive player at the college level like Jalen Reagor, Laviska Shenault or Justin Jefferson could be a fantastic fit here.
Kyler Murray's stock rises, Hopkins could still eat
Wide receivers changing teams can be a tough bet to make in Fantasy, but Hopkins joins an offense that will be willing to throw plenty, and is without clear impact receivers. Christian Kirk is the closest thing the Cardinals have, but there will be plenty of balls to go around for Hopkins and Kirk to see significant work. Larry Fitzgerald is still around, and he'll have his role in the slot.
The trio of receivers Arizona took in the 2019 Draft are still a mystery — Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson did little in 2019, while Hakeem Butler missed the year on IR. This trade has to be taken as a vote of no confidence in that group, even as Arizona is likely to use more heavy-receiver sets than most teams.
Expect Hopkins, Kirk and Fitzgerald to lead the team in targets, and Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds are now the clear backfield options. That's an incredibly strong skill position group for potential second-year breakout candidate Kyler Murray, who I will feel much better about ranking near QB5 in drafts. Murray's rushing ability, offense and this group of receivers gives him major upside.
The big question will be whether Arizona can address the offensive line next. There was a lot of optimism about the Cardinals offense in 2019 with Kliff Kingsbury taking over, and things didn't exactly go as planned in Year 1. But if they can make some additions along the line, the weaponry is now in place for this offense to hit on its considerable upside, with Hopkins still very much in the elite wide receiver discussion and Kirk a potential WR2. Fitzgerald may even be in line for a better season with less defensive attention.
However, if the line isn't improved, there's potential for the Cardinals to be forced back into a run-heavy offense to protect Murray as we saw at times down the stretch in 2019. In that scenario, there may not be enough targets to go around, particularly if Arizona is forced to use fewer receiver-heavy sets in favor of tight ends to increase protection. That outcome would hurt Kirk's potential while also potentially limiting Hopkins' ceiling.
On balance, though, I'm not overreacting to the acquisition of Hopkins as it pertains to Kirk, and I'm not downgrading Hopkins much either because he's been as situation-resilient as any receiver in the league during his career. My optimism for Kirk relates back to his solid college production and Fuller's success alongside Hopkins in Houston — in an offense that should be willing to pass, both can be solid producers. If the addition of Hopkins pushes Kirk down draft boards, he could be a value with the potential to be 2020's Chris Godwin should this offense take the next step.
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