Sammy Watkins and Nuk Hopkins are different receivers. Watkins is faster, perhaps quicker and has a better burst. Hopkins isn’t slow, but doesn’t possess the top end speed of Watkins or Martavis Bryant.
Hopkins appears to be more elusive in traffic and always seems to get just enough yards for a first down when one is needed, often ducking under or spinning away from tackles.
In the eyes of many observers Watkins had a disappointing 2012. After sitting out the first two games due to a suspension, then playing in the next two, Watkins missed another game due to an injury/illness and never appeared completely healthy, though he showed flashes of Sammy circa 2011 on several occasions.
Watkins, by normal standards, had a productive if less explosive sophomore campaign. In 9 games he caught 57 passes for 708 yards. But his 3 touchdowns paled in comparison to the 16 registered by Hopkins (and 8 by Brandon Ford for that matter) and the explosiveness that captured Clemson fans and the nation’s imagination was often lacking.
Whether by design, due to injury or the breakout season delivered by Hopkins, my hunch is Watkins was used differently in 2012 than 2011. However, I lack the data to support this hunch.
That said, I do have the 2012 data and what it shows is Watkins was targeted more than 20 yards downfield 14 times in 78 total targets (18%). Hopkins was targeted 20 or more yards downfield 27 times in 109 targets (25%).
Watkins caught a substantially higher percentage of balls thrown his way than Hopkins (73.08 to 63.30), but again this speaks to how they were used. 41% of the time Watkins was targeted he was behind the line of scrimmage (LOS) while Hopkins was only targeted 9% of the time behind the LOS. Shorter throws generally equate to a higher completion percentage. With these shorter throws however, come less yards per catch, explosive plays and touchdowns.
On plays where targeted downfield, Watkins and Hopkins had a similar average distance targeted – Hopkins at 15.5 and Watkins 15.3
However, when you include the times targeted behind the line of scrimmage the disparity grows to over 5 yards per target and Watkins ends up 4th on the team behind Martavis Bryant, Hopkins and Jaron Brown.
Hopkins is likely NFL bound and with academic questions surrounding Martavis Bryant, Jaron Brown playing his last game in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, and Charone Peake and Adam Humphries typically used at or near the line of scrimmage the Tigers may suddenly be in need of a deep threat in 2013, making it even more interesting to see how Watkins will be used.
In 2010 the Tigers had a dearth of talent at the wide receiver position, with Hopkins the only real threat. That changed with the arrival of Watkins, Peake, Bryant and Humphries and the development of Brown.
There is some talent redshirting and more potentially coming next August, so the cupboard is far from bare. But the question on everyone’s mind is which Sammy Watkins will we see in 2013, the 2011 version or the 2012 version?