HOUSTON (AP) — When DeAndre Hopkins heard recently that Andre Johnson wanted the Houston Texans to draft a receiver in the first round of the NFL draft, he thought: “I’m that guy.”
On Thursday night, the Clemson star got his wish when the Texans selected him with the 27th overall pick to play alongside Johnson.
Hopkins can’t wait to play with Johnson, a six-time Pro Bowler.
“It’s going to be an honor,” Hopkins said. “It’s going to be great learning from a veteran.”
The Texans have long lacked a top-tier receiver to play opposite star Johnson, who turns 32 this summer. In Hopkins, they hope they have another star.
“The thing to us that stuck out in our minds the more we watched him was that he was very competitive,” Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. “He catches the ball in a crowd. He wears the (defensive backs) out. He’s just physical and that’s what translates … that really fits the mold for us.”
Dennison added that Hopkins is just as physical without the ball and raved about his blocking skills. Hopkins takes pride in being physical and said he’s always played that way.
“That’s natural to me,” he said. “I played defense in high school, so when the ball’s in the air I feel like it’s mine. No matter who it is or the situation, I feel like I’ve got to come down with the ball or at least knock it away.”
It’s just the second time Houston has drafted a receiver in the first round and the first time since Johnson was chosen third overall in 2003. The Texans have gone heavy on defense in the first round for most of their existence, picking an offensive player (left tackle Duane Brown in 2008) in the opening round only once since Johnson joined the team.
Dennison, who came to the team in 2010, joked that he didn’t even know reporters were at the stadium on the first round of the draft since he’d never got to talk about a draft pick on Day 1.
He was thrilled that Hopkins was still available when Houston’s slot came up.
“I was just holding my breath,” he said. “He was the guy that I really liked among the wide receivers.”
Last year, Houston drafted receivers DeVier Posey in the third round and Keshawn Martin in the fourth round. Posey contributed on offense, but tore his Achilles tendon in their playoff loss and is likely to miss a lot of time this season, and Martin worked mostly on special teams. Houston also was looking to beef up its receiving corps after cutting veteran Kevin Walter after the season.
Dennison said Hopkins would get a chance to compete for a job immediately, and the confident Hopkins said he feels like there’s “no doubt” that he’ll earn one.
The Biletnikoff Award semi-finalist led Clemson with 82 receptions for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior last season. His 24 catches of 20 yards or more were the most in the ACC.
Hopkins was a two-sport star in high school, leading his team to a state championship as a senior. He also played for the Clemson basketball team as a freshman in 2010.
Though his basketball career ended a couple of years ago, he still uses some of his hardwood skills on the gridiron.
“When the ball is up in the air for a rebound you always have to be on your toes to go up for the ball,” he said. “It’s the same situation in football as a receiver; I’m always trying to get the ball at the highest point like a rebound.”
Hopkins finished his three-year career at Clemson with 206 receptions for a school-record 3,020 yards and 27 touchdowns. He averaged 17.1 yards a catch in 2012.