Thu Jan 3 3:18pm ET
By KRISTIE RIEKEN
AP Sports Writer
File-This Dec. 15, 2018, file photo shows Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins making a touchdown catch on a pass from quarterback Deshaun Watson, not pictured, during the first half of an NFL football game in East Rutherford, N.J. Hopkins has 103 receptions for 1,425 yards which ranks second in the NFL. He needs just nine catches and 97 yards receiving to surpass his career-highs of 111 receptions and 1,521 yards set in 2015. But hes not just close to outdoing his own numbers, he has a chance to pass Andre Johnson for two franchise receiving records with a big game on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun, File)
Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) pulls in a pass in front of Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey (20) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) runs past Jacksonville Jaguars middle linebacker Myles Jack (44) after making a catch during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
HOUSTON (AP) DeAndre Hopkins had the best season of his career, carrying Houston's receivers in a year the group was decimated by injuries.
Now the self-described best receiver in the NFL will need another big performance for the Texans to get a win over the Colts in the wild-card game on Saturday.
''I feel like I'm a leader of this team, not just this offense,'' Hopkins said. ''I was named captain, so for me to go out and play my best game is important, not just for me but for this team.''
Hopkins finished the regular season with a career-high 1,572 yards receiving, which ranked second in the NFL, and his 115 receptions tied a franchise record set by Andre Johnson in 2008. His 11 touchdown receptions were fifth in the league and tied for the second most in his career after he grabbed a franchise-record 13 last season.
His performance comes in a season when the Texans lost starting receiver Will Fuller to a torn knee ligament in October, and Demaryius Thomas to an Achilles tendon injury two weeks ago. Houston got solid production from Keke Coutee midway through the season, but the rookie has missed the last five games with a hamstring injury, leaving Hopkins to carry an even bigger load than usual.
Coach Bill O'Brien is wowed by the sixth-year player nearly every day, and when asked about him this week he noted Hopkins had just made a nifty one-handed grab in practice a few minutes earlier.
''He just has a great skill set, really smart player, excellent competitor, can really make the contested catch, he can line up inside, he can line up outside, he can do a lot of different things, and he's come up real big for us,'' O'Brien said. ''He has 115 catches and they've all been important catches. He's a leading third-down target. ... He always impresses me.''
He's so good and consistent that second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson admitted he's tempted to throw it to him on every play.
''For sure,'' Watson said. ''Usually he's going to make a play happen regardless if you think he's open. If he's not open, he's open.''
Hopkins has a knack for making catches at key moments, with 81 of his 115 receptions resulting in a first down or a touchdown. And an even more impressive statistic, according to Pro Football Focus, is that he does not have a single drop this season on catchable targets.
After that statistic was released, a meme featured a picture of Hopkins with a bottle of glue in one of his hands bearing a label that read: `Hopkins' Catch-All Multi-Purpose WR, extra strong formula, no drop.' Hopkins was amused by the meme and his tweet of it received more than 68,000 likes.
But he said he's more concerned about being consistent than the fact he hasn't dropped a ball all season.
''That's my goal every day. Being consistent, not just on the football field but in life,'' he said. ''Playing football is something I love doing, and being named as one of the best is something that I work hard for because I think everybody wants to be the best at their position. Otherwise why would you play your position? So, to get that recognition from whoever made that, that was pretty cool ... I know that if I don't drop a ball, it's going to lead to something good.''
Watson didn't have to play with Hopkins long to realize he wasn't like most receivers and that his skills could help make up for some of the young quarterback's mistakes.
''I found that out last year when I was throwing to him. It's ridiculous,'' Watson said. ''My first start in Cincinnati last year, some balls there I kind of threw high. Some stop routes. I'd come over and be like: `Hey, it's my bad. I'm going to get it down,' and he was just like: `No, I want it just like that. I want it high. I want it outside. I want it low,' and he just found a way to get it.''
His production this season is even more impressive considering he's been hampered by minor injuries, but still started every game. While those injuries never kept him out on game day, they limited his practice time, which he acknowledges was difficult.
''It's been challenging not being able to practice with my guys like I want to, being out there, just having fun with the fellas,'' he said. ''That's why I look forward to coming to work every day, just being around my teammates, not just going out there and making plays on Sunday.
''It's been challenging from that aspect, but it's been good,'' he continued. ''My play has correlated to us winning games, so I feel like me personally, this is my best season. We won the division. Best record I've had since I've been here yet.''
And now Hopkins and the Texans will try to build on that success as they chase their first championship.
Free-agent wide receiver Demaryius Thomas was involved in a car crash near downtown Denver early Saturday, according to Denver police. Thomas' vehicle rolled over after he lost control. He and a male passenger suffered minor injuries and were taken to the hospital, while a female passenger sustained possible serious injuries that weren't life-threatening. The cause of the crash is being investigated, but it doesn't appear that drugs or alcohol played a role. Thomas was released by the Texans last Tuesday after his season ended prematurely due to a torn left Achilles. The 31-year-old had 59 catches for 677 yards and five touchdowns in 15 games with the Broncos and Texans in 2018. He's in danger of missing the start of the regular season and won't have a hot free-agent market for his services. As of now, it's looking like Thomas won't be one to draft in standard-sized leagues in 2019.
New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski remains non-committal about his playing future, but he has shown up to Gillette Stadium multiple times over the last couple of weeks. Gronk might just be receiving treatment for his thigh, but ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss views it as the tight end being in a good place with how the season ended. Gronkowski will be 30 if he plays in 2019, and he remains a big injury risk that looked much slower in 2018. He'd still be a TE1 if he returns for another season, but Gronk is no longer elite at a very weak position.
The Detroit Lions released wide receiver Bruce Ellington, safety Glover Quinn and linebacker Nicholas Grigsby on Friday. Ellington signed with the Lions after they traded Golden Tate to the Eagles and became their slot receiver until he landed on Injured Reserve on Dec. 22. He had 23 catches for 132 yards in four games for Detroit. Ellington's best year came in 2017 with the Texans when he had 29 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns. Wherever he signs, he'll battle for a roster spot in training camp.
The Buffalo Bills released tight end Charles Clay on Friday. Clay provided only 21 catches (36 targets) for 184 yards (career-low 8.8 yards per catch) and no touchdowns in 13 games for Buffalo in 2018. He was rarely in the game plan for the Bills the last two seasons and won't be a very popular target on the free-agent market. His best season came in 2013 with the Dolphins when he had 69 receptions (103 targets) for 759 yards and six scores over a full season. The days of Clay being on fantasy rosters is over.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles would "probably" be interested in playing for the New York Giants if they decide to move on from Eli Manning, according to one person with knowledge of Foles' thinking. Foles landing with the Giants would be less likely if the Eagles place the franchise tag on him, which is unlikely. The Jaguars are another team to watch out for, and there is mutual interest between them and Foles. After winning Super Bowl MVP two years ago and playing well as a starter again in 2018 when Carson Wentz was injured, Foles should earn a starting gig on the open market with several teams looking for a signal caller. While Foles has QB1 upside in the right matchups, his 2019 fantasy value will ultimately depend on where he winds up.
All indications are that the Pittsburgh Steelers plan to use the transition tag on running back Le'Veon Bell by the deadline on March 5. It's expected to have a value of $9.5 million to $14.5 million for one season and gives the Steelers a chance to match any offer he'd receive on the open market. Pittsburgh doesn't plan on matching any offer to retain Bell, but only to trade him. However, even if the Steelers find a taker in a trade, they'd need Bell to sign the transition tag first, which is highly unlikely. This situation continues to get uglier, but Bell won't be playing in Pittsburgh in 2019 no matter what. Despite having 1,229 rushing attempts in five seasons, Bell is in the prime of his career and has reached the 1,000-yard mark three times. He's one of the more versatile backs in the NFL and should remain an RB1 in his next home.
Arizona Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson will return to shadowing the top opposing wide receivers in 2019, according to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
Free-agent RB Mike Gillislee (Saints) worked out for the Detroit Lions Thursday, Feb. 14.
Miami Dolphins WR Danny Amendola could fill the slot receiver role for the Detroit Lions in 2019 because of his connection to head coach Matt Patricia, in the opinion of Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.
Denver Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders (Achilles') said he is no longer wearing a walking boot but still has a 'slight limp' when walking around.
Fantasy Spin: After suffering an Achilles' injury late in the year, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Sanders miss time in 2019. He showed last year that he can be a WR2 as the top option in Denver's passing attack, but fantasy owners will need to be patient as he returns to form.
Arizona Cardinals WR Chad Williams caught 37 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2018 and had two catches or less in all but two games.
Minnesota Vikings WR Laquon Treadwell averaged 5.7 yards per target last year, the fourth-worst mark among receivers with at least 50 targets, and Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com expects Treadwell's fifth-year option to be declined.
Fantasy Spin: The former first-round pick has been a bust, and he didn't show any signs of righting the ship despite a bigger role in 2018. Even in dynasty formats, it may be time to give up on Treadwell.
Philadelphia Eagles impending free-agent WR Golden Tate and Washington Redskins impending free-agent WR Jamison Crowder are options to fill the need the Green Bay Packers have at slot receiver, according to Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com.
Fantasy Spin: The Packers need a dependable option to support Davante Adams, and both Tate and Crowder would quickly become potential WR3 options if Aaron Rodgers is throwing them the ball.
Atlanta Falcons SS Keanu Neal (knee) posted a video of himself going through agility drills without a brace on his injured left knee.
Washington Redskins QB Colt McCoy (leg) was seen without any braces or supports for his injured leg.
Los Angeles Chargers impending free-agent LB Denzel Perryman will be re-signed this offseason if the Chargers have their way, according to a source.
Updating a previous report, free-agent QB Colin Kaepernick (49ers) desired at least $20 million to play in the Alliance of American Football, according to a source.
Free-agent QB Nick Foles (Eagles) is expected to 'keep tabs on' the New York Giants this offseason, according to NJ.com's Zack Rosenblatt. A source with knowledge of Foles' thinking said the former Super Bowl MVP would 'probably' be interested in starting for the Giants if they were to release QB Eli Manning.
Fantasy Spin: There are many pieces that must fall in order for Foles to the Giants to work out. It's a sensible destination, though, with Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley leading one of the most talented offenses in the NFL. Foles could be the piece that makes them take a forward step. Were this signing to come to fruition, Foles would demand QB1 consideration given the pieces that would be around him.
Free-agent QB Nick Foles (Eagles) is not expected to return to the Philadelphia Eagles as the backup to Carson Wentz.
Fantasy Spin: Foles deserves a starting job. He won't want to play as a backup and make less money when there are teams willing to pay him to be their starter. He can be a part of the QB1 conversation if he lands in the right spot. Of course, when Wentz is healthy he too has QB1 appeal.
Free-agent QB Colin Kaepernick (49ers) and former NFL QB Tim Tebow were asked if they wanted to join the Alliance of American Football, according to league co-founder Bill Polian. Polian said he doesn't know what transpired with Kaepernick, but added that he spoke personally with Tebow, who declined.