KRISTIE RIEKEN | ASSOCIATED PRESS
HOUSTON — DeAndre Hopkins believes if a ball comes near him he should catch it.
“That’s been my mindset since I’ve been playing football,” he said. “Defense, offense, basketball as well, the ball’s in the air, it’s mine.”
That belief has led to some amazing catches, and lately he seems to make at least one a game. All of which has helped the Texans turn around their season and leave them one win from clinching the AFC South.
His latest great grab came on in the fourth quarter on Saturday on a 14-yard reception that was the go-ahead score in Houston’s 29-22 win over the Jets. New York cornerback Morris Claiborne stayed with Hopkins throughout that route and even got an arm between his on the play. But Hopkins was still able to come down with the ball.
“I felt like as good as I played it from the line of scrimmage it was perfect,” Claiborne said. “When you get perfect coverage like that from the line of scrimmage all the way to the end zone and guys come up with those type of balls, you take your hat off to them.”
After the play Hopkins said Claiborne looked at him and said: ‘Man I don’t know how you caught it.’
It’s a sentiment Hopkins hears often and said top defensive backs such as Patrick Peterson and Jalen Ramsey have said similar things after some of his catches.
Hopkins is a favorite target of second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson and he raved about his ability to catch most anything thrown his way.
“I try to be as perfect as I can, but for him, he just says: ‘just get it in his area, he’s going to come down with it,'” Watson said. “That’s what I try to do, just throw it in his catch-radius, and a majority of the time he’s going to take it down. It helps me out big time.”
Hopkins has reached 1,300 yards receiving for the second straight year and the third time in his career, and his 1,321 yards rank third in the NFL. He has 11 touchdown receptions, which are tied for the second most in his career behind the 13 he grabbed last season.
Though he’s happy about his success, he’s far more excited about how the team is doing, with the Texans winning 10 of their past 11 games after a 0-3 start.
“If I had 50 catches and 500 yards I would feel like this is my best season because my team is in this position to do more than we’ve ever done before,” he said. “So for me team success first.”
And despite his success, Hopkins never stops striving to improve. He admits to watching footage of his work, but said that he also devotes a good chunk of time to viewing catches made by former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, whom he refers to by his nickname “Megatron.”
“I watch my highlights a lot, but I watch Megatron highlights too just because he made great catches like that,” Hopkins said. “It motivates me before the games just seeing a great dude go out there and just do it effortlessly.”
During these film sessions Hopkins not only watches his big catches, he also dissects the catches that he didn’t make.
“I always feel like I can be better. I feel like I can do better,” he said. “I feel like I can make better catches.”
Hopkins is a very confident player, but he’s careful not to sound boastful. No matter what players do to try and slow him down he puts pressure on himself to do more to come away with the catch.
“I’ve been stopped before from making those catches or I might have stopped myself sometimes,” he said. “So I feel like it’s me more so than the defender. That’s just like the role that I put on myself and the pressure, no matter what DB is out there it’s my ball. I don’t want to say a DB can’t guard me, but I still feel like I can catch it.”
Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph, a 13-year NFL veteran, has covered Hopkins for years in practice and shakes his head when asked what someone can do to keep him from making a catch.
“You can’t do anything,” Joseph said. “He’s an exceptional talent. He’s got rare hand-eye coordination to catch the ball so … it’s one of those things that in the game it’s almost impossible.”
Hopkins has been making nifty catches throughout his six-year NFL career, which often leads him to be asked which one is his favorite. Because he’s always outdoing himself, the answer often changes and on Thursday it took him a few seconds to come up with an answer.
He exhaled sharply and rubbed his long and lean hands together for a bit before coming to a conclusion.
“The Dolphins catch between the legs,” he finally said. “I’m going to go with that.”
That catch came earlier this season when he reached back and grabbed the ball with one hand and weaved it between his legs in the air before crashing to the ground. But it actually wasn’t a catch at all because he was called for pass interference.
Despite not counting, that play was the talk of the locker room after the win and had many of his teammates wondering, as they often do, how he possibly came down with it.
While he wows teammates and defenders alike with such feats as that non-catch and his huge grab last week, does he still get excited when he makes plays like that or is it simply another day at the office for the 26 year old?
“Sometimes I surprise myself, just like darn I did that? (But) I feel like just go out and be better and do more,” he said.