HOUSTON — The right side of his No. 10 jersey was torn almost completely apart and white paint that had rubbed off the field peppered his long dreadlocks.
DeAndre Hopkins had a long day dealing with near-constant double teams and multiple defenders pulling and grabbing at him in Houston’s loss to Baltimore on Monday night.
But everything he went through against the Ravens wasn’t anything new to Houston’s star receiver. He’s accustomed to it and actually revels in the attention he garners from defenses every week.
In fact, the self-described best receiver in the league likes that teams put such an effort to attempt to slow him down.
And as the Texans (4-7) try to salvage a disappointing and injury-filled season with a strong finish, Hopkins is intent on doing everything he can to help.
“I’m the highest-paid player that’s out there on the field for this organization, so of course I feel like it’s on me if I’m double-teamed or triple-teamed to still come down with the play,” he said.
“And I hold myself to that mindset every time I’m on the field. I feel like it’s on me. I want the game to be on me … I want that pressure.”
Some receivers shy away from contact and complain when dealing with tight coverages and the kind of yanking and pulling that would cause the destruction of a jersey. Hopkins is not among them. It’s a mindset that came from years of playing defensive back as a youngster in South Carolina.
“Just kind of getting down there in the trenches,” he said. “And that’s kind of how I play at wide receiver a little bit with that physicality of: ‘I’m not going to let anyone out-tough me on that island.'”
He thinks that sets him apart from other receivers.
“I would say so,” he said. “I see on film where some guys get beat up at the line of scrimmage or when the ball’s in the air.”
Quarterback Tom Savage loves the toughness of Hopkins and raved about what he brings to the offense.
“It just puts so much confidence in the quarterback to know that there’s a guy out there that’s going to fight for it,” Savage said.
“I know if I throw it to him, he’s not going to let anyone pick that ball off and he’ll go up and get it … he’s the best receiver in the league and yeah, it’s a blessing to have a guy like that out there.”
After signing a five-year $81 million extension last offseason, Hopkins has put together one of the best seasons in his career despite dealing with struggles at quarterback in the wake of Deshaun Watson’s injury.
He’s fourth in the NFL with 1,009 yards receiving and his nine touchdown receptions rank first. Fifty two of his 69 receptions this season have been for first downs, to rank second in the league. He’s been particularly potent in the fourth quarter this season where he leads the NFL with 407 yards receiving.
When told of that statistic a smile crept across his often serious face.
“The way I train my body is to be prepared in the fourth quarter,” he said. “Because I see a lot of guys and their stamina is at an all-time low in the fourth quarter and I feel like mine is still where it was in the first quarter of the game.”
That training includes running five miles a day, something the 25-year-old said he’s done since high school.
“He’s definitely in good shape,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “He can run all day. He practices that way. He’s definitely in top condition, no doubt about it.”
As Hopkins has risen to the ranks of the NFL’s elite receivers, he is double-teamed so often that when he finds himself facing single coverage he has just one thought.
“I just hope that when they do single me (Savage) sees it because it’s rare,” he said. “In the back of my head I’m just like: ‘Come to me.'”
Regardless of what coverage he’s facing the Texans do all they can to get the ball in his hands. And as much as he’s been targeted this season, O’Brien thinks he should be going to him even more.
“The ball went to him 10 times, it probably should have gone to him 20 times,” O’Brien said of the Baltimore game. “I think it’s very, very difficult to cover him. I don’t care how you try to cover him. I think he’s one of the best guys that I’ve ever coached at that position … he’s got a great ability to make catches away from his body, get two feet down. He can run any route, (you) can line him up anywhere and he knows what to do.”