clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Dustin Hopkins: From Cast-Off to Keeper

New, comments

Tom discusses Dustin Hopkins' emergence as a crucial part of the Redskins' progress.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Amid the usual, simmering frustration surrounding a Redskins team with a losing record, there are still some clear signs of improvement.

Even the most jaded fan might reluctantly concede that the defense, particularly the front seven, has jumped a couple of notches over what we've seen in Landover the last two years.  The offensive line has also solidified under the tutelage of Bill Callahan.

We can thank Scot McCloughan for much of the team's improvement, and another bright spot worth noting is his signing of Dustin Hopkins.  A third-year kicker out of Florida State, Hopkins suffered a groin injury and never got on the field for Buffalo in 2013.  After trying to catch on in New Orleans, Hopkins was unemployed as of September 5th, when he was cut by the Saints, still having never played in an actual NFL game.

A few days later, the Redskins released Kai Forbath and signed Hopkins.  Forbath had been fairly reliable during his time with Washington.  He led the NFL in field-goal percentage back in 2012, and he made 24 of 27 field goals last season.  But Forbath's drawback was leg strength: Long-range kicks were iffy, and, more pressingly, he lacked the ability to neutralize kickoff returns by consistently putting the ball deep into (or out of) the end zone.

Enter Hopkins.  Although last Sunday's game saw Hopkins miss for the first time, he's still a solid 8-for-9 on field goals and perfect on extra points.  He also showed he can make a clutch kick from distance, nailing a 52-yarder as time expired to tie the Falcons at the end of regulation.

More importantly, here are the results of every kickoff since he joined the team, excluding the two onside kick attempts near the end of the Giants game:

Rams: Touchback.
Rams: 73-yard kick, St. Louis starts at own 20 after 28-yard return. 
Rams: Touchback
Rams: Touchback 
Rams: Touchback

Giants: Touchback 
Giants: Touchback
Giants: Touchback

Eagles: Touchback 
Eagles: Touchback
Eagles: Touchback
Eagles: Touchback
Eagles: Touchback
Eagles: Touchback

Falcons: Touchback 
Falcons: Touchback
Falcons: Touchback
Falcons: Touchback

How good has Hopkins been?  Near-perfect.  He's putting these kickoffs into the third or fourth row at times.  And let me add some context to this performance: In four games, Hopkins has produced 17 touchbacks.

Kai Forbath generated 18 touchbacks all of last season.

The only non-onside kick that hasn't been a touchback for Hopkins was one against the Rams—a kick that he still placed eight yards deep in the end zone.  Benny Cunningham decided to return it anyway.  Even with a nice runback, Cunningham only made it out to the 20-yard-line.

In other words, in the 18 regular kickoffs since Hopkins' signing, the Redskins' opponents haven't once been able to start outside their own 20.  That's a nice change-of-pace for a team that has experienced prolonged special-teams woes in recent seasons.

Even though Washington is 2-3, I continue to be optimistic about the smart, value-laden moves made by Scot McCloughan.  Grabbing Hopkins off the NFL's discard pile, only to see him emerge as a talented, vital contributor is pivotal—and it also took some guts to drop a decent player to get him.  Being able to add critical pieces like Dustin Hopkins bodes well for the future.  His addition is one more small but very important step in the right direction for this franchise.

A team that has the wherewithal to string together enough of these steps over multiple seasons will eventually find itself deep in the playoffs.