Amidst the Redskins’ retooling of offensive skill position players, and the incoming draft bounty of top-rated defensive rookies, the seemingly singular afterthought this off-season this has been special teams. Perhaps though, this is a welcome change of pace after being in the spotlight at times during the 2016-17 season, primarily for the wrong reasons.
Despite showing signs of improvement the previous season under special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica, questions arose about whether placekicker Dustin Hopkins was the right man for the job. In his second year with the Redskins his field goal percentage dropped from 89.3% to 81%, while his PAT numbers fell from 97.5% to 92.3%. After being hailed as a breakout special teams star and one of the more consistent kickers in the NFL, some began to ask if his rookie performance was a flash in the pan and his 2017 was more the norm for what to expect from Dustin Hopkins.
Hopkins began the season on a hot streak, connecting all 11 field goal attempts and 5 point after tries en route to being named the NFC special teams player of the month.
But a handful of attempts that resulted in near misses, which were amplified by unfortunate timing in key game situations, plagued him for the final three months of the season. In week 7 against the Lions, Hopkins was just off the mark on a 45-yarder that nicked off the top of the upright in a 3-point loss. Against the Bengals in London just a week later, he went wide on a 55-yard kick and was iced on a 34-yard game winning attempt in overtime, resulting in a tie. Then on a national stage on Thanksgiving in Dallas, Hopkins was off the mark on 43- and 55-yard tries in a game where they fell to their heated division rival by five points.
All told, Hopkins had four kicks go off the uprights and was just 3/7 on kicks of over 50 yards. Many critics were quick to point the finger at the 26-year old as being the reason the Redskins lost (or tied) winnable games, which kept them from returning to the playoffs for the second straight year. However, a closer look at Hopkins' performance provides more context and complexity to his setback season.
Statistically, Hopkins was 34/42 on the year, which was tied (with former Redskin Graham Gano) for the most field misses of anyone in the league. However, he was called upon to take the most field goal attempts of kickers in the NFL. His 42 tries, the 2nd highest total attempts by a kicker in the last decade, were due in no small part as a function the Redskins’ inability to finish offensive possessions in the end zone (a paltry 23% touchdown conversion rate on drives over the course of the season.)
From inside of 40 yards, he was 24/26, which is above average compared to other kickers in the league. While Hopkins also missed 3 PATs, there were only 5 kickers who played in at least 15 games that were perfect on all their point-after tries on the year. All told, Hopkins accounted for 34.8% of the Redskins’ total points last season, which ranked in the top 5 among kickers on winning teams for percentage of points scored.
On kickoffs, Hopkins also added a supreme value: his touchback percentage was fourth highest in the NFL, while he was eighth overall in yards allowed off kickoff returns. His ability to take the heat off of the return coverage team had a potentially immeasurable effect in preventing injuries and fatigue over a long 17-game season.
Hopkins is on the final season of a four-year, $2.272 million contract, and is only owed $690,000 by the Redskins in 2017. The team would certainly be hard-pressed to find a better value based on production at kicker anywhere else around the league.
Even in the thick of the off-season, free agent options are limited with top available veteran talent that includes Dan Carpenter, Cody Parkey, and Mike Nugent. In the spirit of competition, the Redskins have invited undrafted Stanford kicker Conrad Ukropina to participate in rookie camp, and will see if he can be a legitimate contender to challenge for a spot on the 53-man roster.
For a franchise that has been marked by inconsistency for the last quarter century, perhaps one of the greatest challenges has been to find a long-term solution at placekicker. The Redskins have trotted out the likes of James Tuthill, John Hall, Brett Conway, and John Potter, as part of a cavalcade of an NFL-high 21 kickers who have attempted a field goal for the burgundy and gold since 1994.
Redskins teammates and coaches spoke highly of Hopkins, and defended his miscues in the kicking game throughout the year when faced scrutiny.
After the overseas tie against the Bengals, Josh Norman spoke up in his support saying, “It’s not a one-man game whatsoever, so if anybody wants to go at Dustin for missing those field goals, I think you suck. I think everything about you is nothing you know of football because he had the opportunity. Things come up short, they really do.”
Kirk Cousins added, “He’s such a talented kicker, certainly wasn’t expecting a miss, but welcome to the NFL. I just told him ‘you’re OK’.”
Coach Jay Gruden also came to Hopkins’ aid following the Dallas loss adding, “I think he can make it. I think he can make it nine times out 10. I got to take the points. An ordinary kicker — he’s got plenty of leg, he just pushed it.”
For what it’s worth, Dustin Hopkins seems to know that last year he did not quite make the grade. Following their week 17 loss to the Giants, Hopkins acknowledged his inconsistent output saying, “I expect more of myself. I know the team expects more of me, and the fans as well – rightfully so. I’ll take that, use as fuel this off-season and try to as be as best as I can be.”
As training camp approaches, we will soon learn if Hopkins is able to bounce back in a return to form, or if the revolving door at kicker will continue to turn and the will Redskins continue to seek answers to fill the position.
Will Dustin Hopkins bounce back after a disappointing 2016 season?
This poll is closed
Yes, last year was nothing more than a blip on the radar.
Hopefully, but let’s see if he can stand up under pressure in training camp competition.
No, his first season was a fluke and we should expect more of the same from a year ago.
Let another team find out, it’s time to move on to someone new immediately.