Spin’s Fantasy Factory: What impact will this returning WR have? 

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Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay (2) talks to Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) during the postgame at State Farm Stadium. Photo by Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports.

Welcome back to another edition of Spin’s Fantasy Factory! I’m Spin, UConn’s self-proclaimed “fantasy football expert.” For this week, instead of firing off names of players that you should start or bench, or players that may boom or bust. I figured it’s time to hone in on one specific player and conduct a brief case study to identify how this player will make an impact both this week and through the remainder of this season. 

This week marks the return of one wide receiver that fantasy managers have been stashing on their benches since draft season. In 2020, his last full season, he finished as the WR4 in PPR leagues, and he has finished inside the top five fantasy wide receivers each season from 2017 to 2020. Through seven games last season, he was on pace to finish the season with a whopping 17 receiving touchdowns before injuries dampered his final stat line. Now, as one of his fellow Arizona Cardinals receivers will be out with an injury for the foreseeable future, he’s returning to his team in a time of need. Of course, I’m talking about DeAndre Hopkins. 

Hopkins has been one of football’s best receivers for the past decade. A three-time All-Pro, he is returning from a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. The Cardinals (2-4), led by quarterback Kyler Murray, have gotten off to a slow start to the season on the offensive side of the ball. However, Murray believes that having a player like Hopkins at his disposal will have a positive impact on his team’s ability to make plays. 

“I assume it just made [Hopkins’] hunger that much greater. I know it would’ve done that for me,” Murray told FanNation’s Donnie Druin. “I would’ve hated to have been sitting out as much as he had to. I’m excited to have him back. I know when he touches the field a lot of people have been waiting on this moment. He’s been waiting on this moment. He’s an electric player.” 

Hopkins’ return comes at a crucial time for the Cardinals, who rank 22nd in the NFL in scoring with 19 points per game. However, the more important headline may be that the team lost leading receiver Marquise Brown for at least a month after he suffered a foot injury in last week’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Though Arizona acquired former Carolina Panthers receiver Robbie Anderson on Monday to help fill the void left by Brown, the team has also been playing thin at running back as their top four players — Eno Benjamin (foot), James Conner (ribs), Darrel Williams (knee) and Jonathan Ward (hamstring) — are all dealing with lingering injuries. 

The opportunity for Hopkins to establish himself as his team’s unquestioned No. 1 wide receiver (as if he didn’t already have that distinction) is here as his team struggles to find ways to disperse the football. Brown’s 64 targets through six games rank fourth in the NFL in total targets, and Hopkins will quickly fill that void. Anderson, meanwhile, will likely operate as Arizona’s primary deep threat, though Hopkins figures to see most of his work in the middle of the field.  

With the Cardinals taking on the New Orleans Saints in this week’s Thursday Night Football matchup, Anderson won’t have the luxury of a full week to practice with his new squad and learn the playbook. Though Hopkins is also being ramped back up in his own capacity, he’s a player who has been in this Arizona system for three seasons now. While he may not have it down pact just yet, the traffic he figures to see given the Cardinals’ health situation should make him a PPR weapon. 

In 2020, Hopkins commanded an elite 30% target share. While that number dipped a bit last season, his target share inside the red zone was an even higher 32%, and he still managed to finish in the top 20 in snaps per game. Last season, Hopkins saw his receptions and yards take a bit of a hit from his 2020 total, though his touchdown pace also saw an uptick from years past — this was enough to keep Hopkins locked in as a fantasy starter. Many experts believe that when Hopkins returns this week, he’ll be returning to an offense that more closely resembles the 2020 team than last year’s, given the losses of major contributors such as Chase Edmonds and Christian Kirk. That’ll bode well for his target, reception and yardage totals. 

CBS Sports’ Chris Towers has Hopkins ranked as the No.11 wide receiver in the NFL for this week even in his first game back in action. However, Towers warns that “there’s some risk both for Week 7 and in the long run, but I stashed Hopkins so I could use him, and that’s what I’m going to do this week.” 

This should basically be everybody’s mentality heading into Thursday night if you managed to acquire Hopkins onto your roster. Sure, the short turnaround of the weekday matchup won’t give Hopkins the opportunity to get fully acclimated with his team, but given his track record of success, repertoire with Murray and Arizona’s lack of receiver depth, Hopkins will make a surefire fantasy starter both this week and over the course of the remainder of this season. 

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