DeAndre Hopkins suspended: Fantasy Fallout and what it means for Marquise Brown, Cardinals teammates

The football community was bewildered when the arizona cardinals gave up a first-round pick for Marquis Brown and the 100th overall pick in last weekend’s 2022 NFL Draft. Now we understand their urgency. stud receiver DeAndre Hopkins has been suspended for the first six games of the 2022 season for violating the league’s PED policy.

It’s a brutal early-season loss for a Cardinals offense that is stacked. Hopkins was acquired by Arizona two years ago to be the team’s No. 1 receiver, especially in the red zone. In the 26 games he’s played with the Redbirds since Hopkins has 27 red-zone targets with 9 of his 14 touchdowns coming in the red zone. Hopkins averaged 14.3 PPR points per game in 2021 and 17.6 in 2020.

The suspension also calls into question whether or not Hopkins will be his dominant self when he returns. He’ll be 30 years old and coming off a year that saw him miss three games with a hamstring injury and five more (including the playoffs) with a torn MCL. When he did play in 2021, he averaged 60.8 yards over eight games before the hammy pull, then cratered to 43.0 post-hamstring and pre-knee tear. It might just be that Hopkins has returned into a touchdown-needy Fantasy receiver. Those guys typically have solid weeks about half of the time and ugly weeks otherwise.

We’ll find out in less than two weeks who the Cardinals will play in these six games, or if the Cardinals have a bye early on in the year. Having to wait six (or seven) weeks for a receiver whose name carries more weight than his reality does not sound like something Fantasy managers should want to do. I’ve dropped Hopkins into the Round 8 range with the hope that someone else takes him before I consider it.

If you like Hopkins but don’t want to reach for him, there is a game plan: The manager who takes Hopkins in your league will obviously have to stash him. If the manager gets impatient, or if the manager needs the roster spot, you can swoop in and trade for him (at a fair price) before his return from him. He should at least carry high-end No. 3 receiver value once he’s back on the field for the Cardinals.

The only other Fantasy downgrade is for Kyler Murray. In his first seven games, all with a healthy Hopkins and he himself healthy, Murray averaged 28.1 Fantasy points. Then Hopkins got hurt, then Murray busted his ankle and missed some time and wasn’t really the same when he returned (20.0 Fantasy points per game in his last four in the regular season — all without Hopkins). When the 2022 season starts, Murray should be healthy and wo n’t have Hopkins but he will have Marquise Brown as a modest-to-good upgrade over Christian Kirk. He’s only downgraded a little and could turn into one of Fantasy’s best bargains. If you’re OK with swallowing a slow start (call it 22.0 Fantasy points per game) before Hopkins returns and gives Murray a shot at replicating the 28.1 he averaged last year, then targeting him as the seventh quarterback off the board sounds about right.

Hopkins’ absence, complete with the 6.7 targets per game he had last year before getting hurt, means a nice little Fantasy upgrade for everyone else on the offense.

What this means Arizona’s pass game

Brown figures to gain the most popularity. Already ticketed to replace the role Kirk had, Brown should have a floor of 7.0 targets per game for the matchups Hopkins misses. That’s what Kirk averaged in 2021 when Hopkins was either out or barely on the field. It’s also the minimum amount of targets Brown’s had in 27 of 49 games including the postseason. He’s no stranger to getting voluminous targets (eight games with nine-plus targets in 2021), and Murray already trusts Brown at all levels of the field going back to their days together at Oklahoma. Brown has top-15 potential to begin the year and still should cruise into the top-24 territory by the end of the regular season. Bank on Brown to go as a top-60 pick.

When Hopkins missed time last year, Zach Ertz averaged 8.4 targets over eight games including the playoffs. He also averaged 13.3 PPR points in the seven regular-season games sans Hopkins. Even with rookie Trey McBride joining the nest and Brown definitely taking attention away, Ertz should be a must-start Fantasy tight end in the early going. He’ll go right around 100th overall — just after if non-PPR, and just before if catches count.

There’s also a golden opportunity for Rondale Moore to contribute in the first six weeks, if not longer. Moore is the second-year rookie receiver who should progress into a fun YAC monster provided he gets the targets. When Hopkins and everyone else are on the field, those targets might be pretty lean. But without Hopkins, maybe Moore finds five targets (and a carry or two) per game. There’s big-time potential in Moore taking pressure off the run game by continuing as a short-area target for Murray. He’s a Round 10 or 11 stab in PPR, Round 12 in non-PPR.

The last piece of the puzzle is running back james conner. I don’t think anyone’s expecting him to replicate his 18 total touchdowns from last year, and it’s kind of hard to overlook his 3.7-yard rushing average from him. But my fingers are crossed that Conner will be at full strength to begin the season and get at least the same kind of workload he had toward the end of the 2021 regular season (20-plus touches in 5 of his final 6). It would be cool if he improved his efficiency too. Conner is worth a Round 3 pick, though I’d at least consider handcuffing him to rookie Keontay Ingram.

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