INDIANAPOLIS – Brycen Hopkins grew up around the NFL.

His father, Brad, was a first-round pick out of Illinois and played 13 seasons primarily as a left tackle with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans.

But Hopkins' own dreams as a youth revolved around the basketball court. He harbored hopes of playing in the NBA until his junior year of high school.

"I was always just drawn to basketball," Hopkins said during the NFL Scouting Combine in February. "It's what I liked watching. It's what I liked doing. It's easy to go outside and just start shooting hoops in the back yard, in the front yard, wherever your goal is. And it's just something my attention was drawn to and I thought I could be good at.

"I wasn't as good as I would've liked to be. So (I) saw how those skills could correlate and translate to the (football) field. And it all kind of worked out."

Indeed.

A raw talent with plenty of mentors, Hopkins has grown into a pro prospect as a pass-catching tight end with upside. But it took awhile for the process to play out, even in his own mind.

Hopkins chose to play at Purdue in part because of the school's loyalty to him. The Boilermakers were the first Div. I program to offer a scholarship, and Hopkins hung with his commitment even after Florida tried to swoop in and steal him late in the process.

It looks to have been the right call -- especially after offensive wizard Jeff Brohm arrived as head coach before Hopkins' sophomore season.

As a senior, Hopkins earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and caught 61 passes for 830 yards and seven touchdowns. That production came despite a host of injuries that racked the Boilers' offense.

Starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar went down early in the season. Redshirt freshman Jack Plummer and sophomore Aidan O'Connell each took snaps as Sindelar's replacement, and both had to play without top target Rondale Moore -- who was injured in the same game as Sindelar.

Hopkins, who was voted a team captain, helped fill the void. He had three games with at least eight catches and 100 receiving yards while thriving in former pro quarterback Brohm's offensive scheme.

"Even coming in, knowing that (Brohm) was a tight ends guy and he was gonna be able to use me well, it was an exciting opportunity for myself," Hopkins said. "And I think he and I both took advantage of it. And I just had to understand the position I was in and the opportunity that I had to make plays for the offense, and I think he just did a great job of getting me the ball and also putting me in line and showing that I could block a little bit and fight down there in the trenches.

"So just all around, I think he did a great job just preparing me and exposing the player that I am."

The consensus seems to mark Hopkins as a mid-round pick, with a likely landing spot early in the draft's third day.

In many ways, that projection belies Hopkins' college production.

He is the top-rated tight end in this draft class according to Next Gen Stats with an elite on-field score of 98. Only Missouri's Albert Okwuegbunam (94) joined him in the elite production category.

Digging deeper into the numbers, Pro Football Focus ranked Hopkins third among draft-eligible tight ends with 383 receiving yards after making the catch and fourth with 21 receptions of 15 yards or more.

Adding to his big-play profile, Hopkins finished second among tight ends at the Combine with a 4.66-second time in the 40-yard dash.

The knocks against him include inconsistent tape as a blocker and a troubling history with drops. Pro Football Focus credited Hopkins with eight drops in 2019 and 22 drops on 216 career targets. The resulting 13.8% drop rate is the highest among tight ends in the draft class.

But Hopkins' football career has been on a steady upward climb. He didn't think about the NFL until he started to produce on the field as a junior at Purdue (34 catches, 583 yards and two TDs), and having a front-row seat for his father's career prepared him for the hard work that lies ahead.

It's been a meteoric rise and one Hopkins has taken the time to appreciate.

"I don't want to say it was unexpected, but it was unexpected," he said. "But, at the same time, I thought I could be here and I had the potential, but I wasn't sure how much of a shot I was gonna get. So I appreciate Coach Brohm for exposing me in that way and allowing me to get that exposure in order to make the plays and have the opportunity to be here."

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