DeAndre Hopkins will make his season debut Thursday when the Arizona Cardinals host the New Orleans Saints. He’s returning after completing a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy.
The start of this season wasn’t the team’s first stint without Hopkins. Last season, Hopkins missed seven regular season games and the Cardinals’ wild card game against the Los Angeles Rams with hamstring and MCL injuries, according to ESPN. The team went 3-5 in his absence last year and have started this season 2-4 without him.
“His level of competitiveness, the way he practices, the way he talks, it’s going to be good for us,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said after Sunday’s loss after Hopkins coming back, according to Arizona Sports. “It’s going to uplift us and it’s a tall task for him on a short week going into Thursday night, but I’m sure he’ll be fired up to play.”
Why was Hopkins suspended?
In May, Hopkins was suspended after a November drug test came back with traces of a banned substance, ESPN reported. He said the test detected 0.134% ostarine and the NFL’s threshold for the substance is 0.1%, according to AZCentral.
“To learn that my November test came back with trace elements of a banned substance, I was confused and shocked,” he said in a statement on Twitter. “I am very mindful of what I put in my body and have always taken a holistic approach, so I am working with my team to investigate how this could’ve happened.”
The wide receiver denies taking the substance and has no idea how it ended up in his system. He believes the suspension policy should change for small amounts of a banned substance or that thresholds should be raised.
“I never took anything. I never took a supplement. I’ve never taken anything,” he told AZCentral. “If you know about what it is, it can be in shampoo. It can be in a lot of different things. The NFL is very black and white. Of course, I wish the rule wasn’t so black and white, but it is what it is. It’s hard to know when something gets contaminated at a trace amount when you’re not working at the manufacturing company.”
To put Hopkins’ suspension in perspective, Deshaun Watson initially received the same length of suspension for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy after 24 women alleged he committed sexual misconduct against them. The NFL later appealed the suspension, which led to it becoming an 11 game suspension, NFL.com reported.
Hopkins tried appealing his suspension but lost. His teammates seem to have no hard feelings about his absence and have supported him, such as by wearing “Free D-Hop” shirts.
Can DeAndre Hopkins save the Cardinals’ season?
The wide receiver returns to a struggling and depleted offense. The Cardinals are No. 16 in yards per game and No. 22 in points per game, according to ESPN. They also lost wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown to a foot injury on Sunday and traded for the Panthers’ Robbie Anderson this week.
While Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray is excited to have his “electric” receiver back, he told reporters during his Tuesday media availability that Hopkins’ return won’t cure their ailing offense.
“It’s not a miracle thing,” he said. “We still got things we need to be better at, still got things we need to fix. Obviously, having him back definitely helps, but we still gotta be better in all the areas that we’re not good in right now.”
Murray isn’t expecting a lack of chemistry with his receiver or for Hopkins to be rusty at all.
“It seems like every time you see him out on the field, it’s like there’s a reason why he’s the best,” he said. “The team’s definitely appreciative of having him back.”
When reporters asked Hopkins to describe what it’s been like to watch the offense struggle from afar without being able to help them, he gave them a one-word answer: frustrating.
“Only one word to describe it,” he said during the press conference.
Despite the offense failing to live up to the caliber displayed in the beginning of last season, Hopkins thinks the team can still return to that level this season.
“Obviously, one person can’t go out there and win a game, but it does help having someone like myself out there who can dictate a lot, dictate how defenses play us,” he said.