MINNEAPOLIS -- As jarring as it sounds on the surface, Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson actually grew up watching current Arizona Cardinals star DeAndre Hopkins.
Though the 29-year-old Hopkins is still in his prime, and might be the best receiver in the NFL, the age gap is big enough that the 22-year-old Jefferson looked up to him as a kid.
“I’m a big fan of D-Hop,” Jefferson said. “He has tremendous hands. Just the way he catches the ball, and the body control, he’s phenomenal. He’s a freak of nature in that category.”
That’s something the Vikings will get to experience firsthand this Sunday when they take on the Cardinals at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
After hauling in 6 of 8 targets for 83 yards and a couple of touchdowns at Tennessee last weekend, Hopkins will surely be looking for an even better performance in the home opener this weekend. It’s on Vikings cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Bashaud Breeland, and the rest of the secondary, to slow him down as best they can.
“You rarely see D-Hop drop passes,” said Peterson, who was teammates with Hopkins last season. “He catches all of the contested throws. You just have to make those windows a little bit tighter and be a little bit tighter with coverage. Just try as best as we can to make his day a living hell.”
In the past, Peterson might have shadowed Hopkins in the upcoming matchup. That won’t be the case this weekend as Peterson will patrol his side of the field with Breeland manning the opposite sideline.
“He’s got a big catch radius,” Breeland said. “He’s one of those possession receivers that can catch the ball anyway. You’ve really got to key in on him. He really makes other people go. If we can slow him down, and get everybody else out of the picture, we’ll be good.”
In addition to his incredible hands and his massive catch radius, Hopkins brings a physical presence to his game. While most receivers use their speed and quickness to create separation off the line of scrimmage, trying their best not to get touched, Hopkins invites contact with opposing defenders.
“He uses his size and his physicality to his advantage,” co-defensive coordinator Adam Zimmer said. “He knows how to fight at the line of scrimmage. He definitely knows all the tricks of the trade on how to be physical and get off the press and get by a guy.”
That should create an entertaining matchup between the Vikings and Cardinals this weekend, most notably whenever Peterson and Hopkins are lined up across from each other.
“That’s kind of how I play my game, as well,” Peterson said. “I want to be physical with the receivers and get in their head and have them thinking about me a little bit more. It’s different with D-Hop. He invites that. So, it’s a little bit of a chess match whenever I have my opportunities to go up against him.
“It should be a fun game. It should be a fun matchup whenever we have the opportunity to match up.”