In January after Hopkins declared his intentions, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said the player needed another year of overall development to be better prepared for the NFL. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said in December that Hopkins should stay for his senior year. But Hopkins believed he’d accomplished all he could in college and was ready to step up.
These days, Kiper and several other mock drafts have Hopkins going in the first round.
“I felt like I’ve overachieved,” Hopkins said Wednesday. “It’s not going out and proving people wrong if I go first round or not. That’s just money. It’s a personal challenge. Everybody has opinions, that’s what makes us unique as human beings.”
Hopkins, at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, was the best performer on a bad offensive team his freshman year in 2010 before finding his groove in coordinator Chad Morris’ high-speed attack the past two years.
Hopkins had 72 catches for 978 yards as a sophomore.
His goal last summer was having a season that would set him up for the chance to go pro if he wanted. And Hopkins delivered with 82 catches for a school-record 1,405 yards and an ACC mark of 18 touchdowns.
Most of his TD catches came in opening halves as Clemson (11-2), the ACC points leader last fall, put away several opponents by halftime and rested its starters. Hopkins won’t even guess how many touchdowns he might have gotten playing all four quarters.
“Oh, man, we’ll leave that to the scientists to figure out,” he said.
Swinney made it clear he supported Hopkins’ choice, but always thinks unless a player has a guaranteed, first-round spot, it’s generally best for a final year in college.
“That’s what my life experience tells me,” he said. “I’ve been in college football for 24 years as a player and coach. I just think you are always better off more times than not in another year of college maturing physically and mentally in every regard.”
Hopkins has already had an individual workout with the Carolina Panthers and expects to have more such sessions with additional teams the next few weeks. He wouldn’t identify other teams who might be interested.
“I believe I’ll be a first-round pick,” Hopkins said, “without a doubt.”