TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — DeAndre Hopkins has been one of football's best receivers for the past decade and he's also got a streak of self-awareness.
Now that the three-time All-Pro is back from a six-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, he knows exactly what he brings to an Arizona Cardinals offense that desperately needs a jolt.
“One person can’t go out there and win the game,” Hopkins said. “But it does help having someone like myself out there who can dictate how defenses play us.”
That's exactly what the Cardinals (2-4) are hoping happens as they try to rebound from a slow start to the season, particularly on the offensive end. Arizona hosts the New Orleans Saints (2-4) on Thursday night.
Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray has had an uneven first six games after signing a $230.5 million deal during the offseason, but some of the struggles aren't necessarily his fault. Arizona's offense hasn't looked the same without Hopkins, who has caught 14 touchdown passes over 26 games the past two seasons.
Murray said having Hopkins on the practice field has been a welcome change.
“Just having him out there, his energy, it seems like every time you see him out on the field, there’s a reason why he’s the best," Murray said. "I’m excited for him. I’m excited to be able to throw the ball again. I never took that for granted.”
It's fair to wonder if the 30-year-old Hopkins can still produce at an elite level. He hasn't been at full strength in nearly a year, missing much of the last half of the 2021 season because of knee and hamstring injuries.
The receiver didn't seem concerned about rust.
“I don’t put any negative things in my head,” Hopkins said. “I let you guys do that. I go out there and think about winning games. This is football, anybody can get hurt, next man up.”
Hopkins had 42 catches for 572 yards and eight touchdowns over 10 games last season. More importantly, the Cardinals had an 8-2 record in those games.
His return comes during a midseason offensive makeover for the Cardinals, who rank 22nd in the NFL in scoring with 19 points per game. The Cardinals also traded on Monday for Panthers receiver Robbie Anderson, who had a 1,000-yard season in 2020.
While the Cardinals are adding Hopkins and Anderson, they've lost leading receiver Marquise Brown for at least a month. Brown suffered a foot injury in last week's loss to the Seahawks. The team is also shuffling personnel on the offensive line because starting left guard Justin Pugh is out for the season with a torn ACL.
Three of the team's top four running backs — James Conner (ribs), Darrel Williams (knee) and Jonathan Ward (hamstring) — are dealing with various injuries.
Murray said the Cardinals can't expect a miracle just because Hopkins is back on the field.
Still, it definitely provides a boost.
“He's a different guy,” Murray said. “Everybody knows that. When he's out there, you've got to account for him.”
Hopkins has maintained his innocence since his suspension was announced in May. He previously said he tested positive for a small amount of Ostarine, but declined to elaborate on Tuesday, saying more information will “come out after the year.”
“Obviously, I felt like I let my team down, but it wasn't something I was going to let myself mentally get down about,” Hopkins said. "We've got 11 games to play.”
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