Our 2014 NFL Draft Primed series will run through the start of the college football season. We will spotlight players that are flying under the national radar but could become household names in the near future.
Virginia Tech’s defense has significant NFL talent. With much of the focus in the defensive backfield – with Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller and along the defensive line with defensive end James Gayle, it’s easy to overlook a 6-foot-0, 312 pound defensive tackle…or not.
Derrick Hopkins was a lightly recruited local kid from Highland Springs, Virginia that seemed destined for Virginia Tech. Hopkins older brother, Antoine, was a current Hokie defensive tackle when Derrick entered the program.
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Hopkins would make an immediate impact at Tech – playing in 13 games with nine tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 2 quarterback hurries. More importantly, the youngest Hopkins impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic on the field and in the strength and conditioning program. Walking in the door, Hopkins was one of the strongest players on the team – with a 485-pound front squat as a freshman, tops among all defensive linemen.
Despite being a true sophomore, the Tech coaching staff couldn’t keep Hopkins out of the starting lineup in 2011. Hopkins emerged as an unsung hero playing alongside of his older brother for the next two seasons. In 2011, Hopkins amassed 51 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, and twelve quarterback hurries.
2012 was a tough season overall for the Virginia Tech Hokies. With the promise of a young but talented bunch of players – the promise never came to fruition. The Tech defense struggled mightily during the first six games of the season – allowing 196 yards rushing per game, going 3-3 in the soft part of their schedule. The Hokies and Hopkins would play much better during the second half, allowing just 80 yards rushing per game over the last seven, finishing 7-6.
Hopkins finished the 2012 season with 51 tackles, ten tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, seven quarterback hurries, and a forced fumble on his way to All-ACC honorable mention honors.
The 2013 season kicks off against Alabama. After that contest, the Hokies could be primed for a run at the ACC Title – missing from the schedule are ACC powers Florida State and Clemson. The Hokies return nine starters on defense and bring back an experienced offense led by senior quarterback Logan Thomas.
At the heart of this veteran defense will be Derrick Hopkins. Hopkins originally caught my eye while watching James Gayle as I noticed myself becoming fixated on No. 98. Hopkins looks like a plugger but that would be anything but the case. He’s strong at the point of attack but jumps off the screen with his first step and burst for a massive man. When Hopkins wasn’t in on the tackle, he was busy pushing people around and creating havoc in the middle of the line and dropping back in coverage (at 312 pounds).
Hopkins won’t be a first round pick, nor may he be drafted early but he’s going to make an NFL roster and compete for playing time at the next level. His versatility to play the 0T, 1T, or 3T will make him a valuable commodity to all 32 NFL teams.
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