On Thursday, we learned that the New York Jets had signed their defensive tackle Quinnen Williams to a four-year contract extension — presumably clearing the way for the Kansas City Chiefs to give a contract extension to their star defensive tackle Chris Jones.
Normally, we’d just be talking about the kind of deal we might expect Jones to get — and there’s certainly been some talk about that.
But the defending Super Bowl champions do not have a clear No. 1 wide receiver on their roster. So most of the talk has been centered on what might happen after Jones is signed — specifically, about whether the Chiefs might use salary-cap space cleared by a potential Jones extension to sign free-agent wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
The Arizona Cardinals released Hopkins on May 26. Since then, he’s visited both the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans; both are reported to have made contract offers. But so far, Hopkins has not signed a deal. Is that because the contracts now on the table aren’t big enough? Or is he waiting for a contending team to make an offer?
The Chiefs — who have been reported to still be in communication with Hopkins’ camp — could be that team. Since we believe Kansas City has just $859,000 in salary-cap space, a deal with Jones would almost have to be the first step to making a legitimate offer.
All of this, however, ignores what might be the most important question the Chiefs must answer about Hopkins: what kind of production could the team expect from him in 2023?
To attempt to answer that question, we’ll use Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value (AV) statistic. This way, we can take everything into account: the number of games played (or started), along with receptions, yards, touchdowns and so on.
A player with an AV of 4 in a particular season is generally considered average. An AV of 8 or more suggests someone who plays a large part in a team’s success. You generally see AVs of 12 or above on star players. On the other end of the spectrum, players who don’t do much for their teams — but at least get on the field in most of the games — tend to get an AV of 1.
We’ll use AV to create a data set of wideouts who have had production similar to Hopkins in the five years ending with their age-30 season. Then we’ll see what those players have done when (or if) they played at 31 — the same age Hopkins will be in the coming year.
In the last five years, Hopkins has collected a cumulative AV of 48 (13 in 2018, 11 in 2019, 12 in 2020 and then 6 in both 2021 and 2022). So in order to create the largest sample size possible, I collected the statistical data for all wideouts who had a cumulative AV from 40 to 56 in their seasons from 26 to 30 years old.
That’s a group of 84 wide receivers.
Then I collected the data for all NFL wide receivers who made at least a minimal contribution to a team (an AV of 1) at the age of 31. There have been 278 such receivers. Then by cross-referencing that data set to the original list of 84 players, we can see how wide receivers like Hopkins produced at 31.
In the third column of the table, I have included the average of common statistics for all 31-year-old wideouts with AVs of exactly 1, 4, 8 and 12 — thereby establishing a statistical floor for each group.
Hopkins-Like Wideouts at Age 31
|AV Level||Probability||Minimum Production|
|1 or more||93%||11 games |
|4 or more||82%||13 games |
|8 or more||46%||15 games |
|12 or more||7%||15 games |
So, for example, there is a 46% probability that Hopkins will have at least an above-average season for a 31-year old wideout with his history of production, in which he can be expected to reach statistical minimums of 15 games (with 13 starts), 57 catches for 813 yards and six touchdowns.
The bottom line
On Friday, I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations that indicated there might be something like a 15% chance a 31-year-old wide receiver could have a 1,000-yard season. Taking this more refined approach suggests that this rough calculation was right in the ballpark.
This more detailed look there is something around a coin-flip’s chance that at the age of 31, Hopkins could turn in a good-to-very-good season. This attractive possibility — and what looks like a very good fit for Hopkins in Kansas City’s offense — explains the Chiefs’ interest in him.
But we also see the risk involved in signing a player of Hopkins’ age. The most likely outcomes would be pretty disappointing — especially if Kansas City signs him to a substantial contract. And while the possibility of a huge season is certainly there, it would probably be unwise to assume it will happen by giving Hopkins a big contract.
Some would argue that Hopkins catching passes from quarterback Patrick Mahomes would increase the probability that Hopkins could have a really big season. That’s a compelling thought — but it’s also true that the wideout’s biggest years have come when he was getting twice as many targets as any other receiver. That’s not likely to happen in Kansas City, where tight end Travis Kelce is likely to remain the most-targeted pass-catcher — and Mahomes has been spreading the ball around very well.
So this takes us right back where we started: since Hopkins appeared in only nine games last season (accumulating 717 yards and three touchdowns), creating a Hopkins contract featuring not-likely-to-be-earned (NLTBE) incentives totaling many millions of dollars would be child’s play for Chiefs’ general manager Brett Veach. This puts most of the risk of signing him into the veteran wideout’s court — and for Kansas City, moves the vast majority of the contract’s cap hit to 2024.
After all... we probably don’t need a statistical analysis to see one probability is pretty darned good: that Hopkins would bet on himself to win a Super Bowl ring with the Chiefs in 2023.