With Anquan Boldin getting older (albeit not less effective) the Baltimore Ravens may have to start looking for a replacement for the 32-year-old. Even though Boldin is still playing at very high level, the Ravens have to realize that he won't be able to play forever (like they failed to realize with Derrick Mason). Combine this with recent speculation that Boldin may be one of the salary cap causalities in upcoming "Flacc-opalypse" is becomes increasingly less unreasonable that Baltimore could spend their 1st pick on a receiver.
Walter Football apparently shares this rationale as they have slotted the Ravens to take DeAndre Hopkins (Clemson) with the 32nd overall pick. Originally when I saw this pick I thought, "there's no chance in hell", but the more I thought of it the more it made sense. Here's why:
While in Clemson, Hopkins enjoyed the luxury of having Sammy Watkins, possibly the fastest man in college football, consistently drawing double coverage which allowed Hopkins to flourish. The Baltimore Ravens have not one, but two dangerous speedsters to draw coverage off of Hopkins in Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones.
Hopkins is like Boldin in the sense that he isn't overpoweringly big (both come in at 6'1" feet) but he plays bigger than he actually is. Now that sounds like one of those over-used sports idioms I hate so much, but take a look at some of his highlights and you'll understand exactly what I mean. He plays with such a combination of grace and physicality that almost makes it look like he doesn't even have to try.
- Hopkins has the goods. He's got speed (however it has been understated as he's been overshadowed by Sammy Watkins in that regard), runs extremely crisp routes, can make the acrobatic catches, and his transition from the catch to carry is smooth as can be without a trace of hesitation or awkwardness.
- By this point in the draft, the best of the linebackers will be long gone and I think Hopkins would fit into Ozzie Newsome's best-player-available draft-strategy. Unless a Barret Jones, Manti Te'o, or John Jenkins somehow slip to the Ravens, I think Hopkins will be the best player available.
The only two criticisms I have of Hopkins is that it appears as though he relies too much on using his body to assist him when pulling in a pass which can be indicative of weak hands. When you have a QB with an arm like Joe Flacco's it is absolutely unacceptable to catch with your body, or else the ball will bounce right off of your shoulder-pads. The other criticism being that he needs to gain about 10-15 pounds of muscle (and still keep his speed) in order to beat defensive-backs in today's NFL. Other than these few criticisms, Hopkins looks to be a solid prospect with lots of upside.