With Purdue trailing 14-3 at home against their in-state rival Indiana, the Boilermakers needed someone to create a spark at Ross-Ade Stadium. On third-and-7 from Purdue’s 28-yard line, senior tight end Brycen Hopkins provided exactly what the team needed.
Hopkins lines up in the slot to the right side of the formation and linebacker Cam Jones is in coverage. At the snap, Hopkins runs directly at Jones but slightly angles his seam route to the inside. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell then hits his tight end in stride on the 40-yard line, the crowd immediately erupts and 72 yards later Hopkins scores.
Purdue eventually lost 44-41 in double overtime, but Hopkins finished the game with eight receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns. In that game alone, though, Hopkins had more yards and touchdowns than every Bears tight end had for the entire 2019 season. Let that sink in for just a second.
At the 2020 NFL scouting combine, general manager Ryan Pace told reporters that the Bears are assessing and evaluating their options at the tight end position for this upcoming season.
“We’re looking at it [the tight ends] in free agency and the draft,” Pace said. “It’s deep in different areas. That’s an area of focus for us, I don’t think that’s a secret. This offense, a lot of it goes through the tight end, so we’re exploring every avenue.”
The Bears desperately need to add a tight end who can be a difference-maker for Matt Nagy’s offense. There are several tight ends in this year’s draft class that have the potential to become impact players like Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet and Dayton’s Adam Trautman. But Hopkins’ skill set fits perfectly with what Nagy values in the tight end position.
Here are the reasons why the Bears should draft Hopkins.
What stood out to me when I first started watching Hopkins’ film and when I saw him practice in-person at the Reese’s Senior Bowl, was his route running ability. Even though Hopkins is listed at 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, he moves like he is a receiver.
At the Senior Bowl, I asked Hopkins how he is able to create separation as a route runner, and here is his response.
In the audio clip, Hopkins mentioned that a route runner needs to be deceiving. On this second-and-goal play against Wisconsin last season, Hopkins hesitates and fakes like he was going to block, but then he accelerates to the right corner of the end zone and hauls in a touchdown in-between two Badgers.
Hopkins also talked about leverage being a key component when creating separation. In Purdue’s Week 3 matchup against TCU, Hopkins set up safety Trevon Moehrig like he was going to run an inside breaking route. Instead, Hopkins changes his direction and begins to separate from Moehrig, giving quarterback Jack Plummer a window to throw into.
Hopkins’ precise route running and his ability to create separation from defenders makes him an ideal candidate for Nagy’s offense. Other than wide receivers Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller, the Bears didn’t have anyone else who could win one-on-one matchups last season. Hopkins has shown that he can beat man coverage, and that is exactly what Chicago needs to help their offense.
While Hopkins was at Purdue, head coach Jeff Brohm used him in a variety of ways to get him the football. On this first-and-10 play against Maryland, Hopkins is one yard behind the left tackle. After the snap, Hopkins runs to the flat on the other side of the formation and the linebacker is late to pick him up, resulting in a 20-yard gain.
On Purdue’s next possession, Hopkins lines up as a wideout to the left side of the formation. Linebacker Keandre Jones decides not to cover Hopkins, so the play results in a 16-yard reception on first down.
And here is Hopkins in the slot against TCU. He runs an out route and sees the defender in the flat, so he plants his foot, turns upfield and makes the defender miss to gain some additional yardage.
Although Nagy didn’t use some of his playmakers to the best of their abilities last season, that would be hard to do with a player like Hopkins. At any given play, the former Boilermaker can be positioned in a different spot on the field, giving Nagy plenty of options and pages to use in his playbook. More importantly, Hopkins would allow Nagy to exploit certain mismatches throughout a game.
A lot of Hopkins biggest plays last season happened in the middle of the field. With his 4.66 speed and basketball background, he is fast enough to run past linebackers and can high-point the football to make athletic receptions down the field. Like this one that he had against Indiana last season.
And here is Hopkins making another big play, but this time against Iowa. He runs a seam route down the middle of the field, bounces off the safety and picks up a few extra yards for the Boilermakers’ offense.
Hopkins is a talented tight end and has all the intangibles to be a quality player in the NFL. However, it’s worth noting that rookie tight ends have struggled to make a huge impact in their first season. Still, he would be a much-needed addition for a Bears tight end group that ranked at the bottom of every statistical category in 2019.
To see Nagy’s offense at its true potential, he needs to have a playmaking tight end. Adding Hopkins to the Bears would add that piece to the offense and also the tight end that Nagy has been searching for since he first arrived in Chicago.