Who cuts a kicker a week into the season? Why, the Washington Redskins, of course.
The Redskins were ridiculed when they released Kai Forbath, who was the most accurate kicker in franchise history, just a week into the season. Forbath missed a field goal in the season opener against the Miami Dolphins, which Washington lost, 17-10, but he finished his Redskins career (barring a return to the Burgundy and Gold) making 60 of his 69 field goal attempts and 91 of his 93 PATs.
The real issue for Forbath in Washington, as it was later revealed, was his inability to force touchbacks. The Redskins' coverage team hasn't been very good in recent years, and with early injuries to Niles Paul, Logan Paulsen and Adam Hayward, the Redskins needed touchbacks more than ever this year.
And the reasoning behind the release makes sense: If the kickoff sails through the back of the endzone, there's no chance of the coverage team missing tackles that lead to a huge, potentially momentum-shifting return for a touchdown. Still, the timing seemed odd — why wasn't the position addressed in the offseason or preseason? — and some wondered if it was fair to blame Forbath for the Redskins allowing kick returns of 29 and 25 yards in Week 1.
Well, with the Redskins having played seven games and the bye week a natural time for reflection, it's hard to argue with the results.
Dustin Hopkins, the man who replaced Forbath, is 11 for 12 on field goals, his only miss coming from 53 yards out, and perfect on his 13 PATs.
He has also been able to thrive where Forbath struggled, forcing touchbacks on 22 of his 31 kickoffs (71 percent), according to NFL.com. Forbath, on the other hand, has forced touchbacks on just 49 of his 181 career kickoffs (27 percent).
This is what has happened on the nine Hopkins kickoffs that did not go for touchbacks:
- The St. Louis Rams returned a kick 28 yards to their own 20-yard line.
- The New York Giants recovered an onside kick attempt and returned it four yards to the Washington 41-yard line.
- An onside kick attempt against the Giants went out of bounds at the Giants' 44-yard line.
- The New York Jets returned a kick 22 yards to their own 17-yard line.
- A squib kick was returned for no gain to end the first half against the Jets.
- The Jets returned a kick 25 yards to their own 32-yard line.
- The Redskins nearly recovered an onside kick but it squirmed out of Mason Foster's arms and was recovered by the Jets for no gain.
- The Redskins recovered a surprise onside kick against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- The Bucs returned a kick 22 yards to their own 19-yard line.
In total, that's six kickoffs that have been returned (Nos. 2 and 5 officially count as returns, but No. 7 does not because the Jets did not try to advance the ball) for an average of 15.7 yards. Forbath, in his three kickoffs for the Redskins in Week 1, achieved just one touchback and allowed two returns for an average of 27.0 yards. Combine the two kickers, and the Redskins are allowing an average return (albeit skewed a bit by two kicks being returned for a combined four yards) of just 17.9 yards, according to Pro-Football-Reference.
That's good for third best in the NFL. Compare that to 2014, when the Redskins' opponents averaged 25.8 yards per kick return. Washington was two yards below league average then, coming in 23rd place overall. In addition, Hopkins appears to be far superior at onside kicks, though it might still be too early to make that claim.
And then, of course, there are the field goals.
There's not much of a sample size available with Hopkins, but as mentioned, he's missed just one kick so far this season. What's important, however, is the distances he's been kicking from. Hopkins missed the 53-yarder, but he drilled each of his other two attempts from 50+ yards.
In six games with Washington, the Redskins have trusted Hopkins enough to attempt three kicks from at least 50 yards; in Forbath's 41 games with the Redskins, he went just 2-for-4 from 50+ yards. And while he made all 11 of his kicks from 40-49 yards in his first season in Washington, he went 12-for-16 in the years since. Hopkins is 2-for-2 from that range.
So while we're still less than halfway through the season, it appears the Redskins absolutely nailed the decision to part ways with Forbath and sign Hopkins.