During Thursday’s first preseason game against the Patriots, much of Washington’s roster looked comfortable and like it was on track for the slow progression of development through the preseason. One aspect of the team’s play that did not meet that threshold, however, was the kicking game. Tress Way was just “fine,” and not playing at his usual “top 3 punter in the league” level, and kicker Dustin Hopkins missed two field goals, one from just 40 yards out.
Dustin Hopkins misses his first field goal attempt of the preseason pic.twitter.com/vD1O6yIGli— Ben Brown (@BenBrownPL) August 12, 2021
It is, after all, preseason, and the punt/kick team is operating with a new long snapper - rookie Camaron Cheeseman - so it’s not quite time to panic yet, but I do think it’s a good time to take a look back over Hopkins’ kicking performance over the past several years to see how it stacks up against the rest of the league, and to isolate the potential impacts of a new special teams colleague.
Hopkins was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2013, and was eventually waived by the Bills and the Saints before landing a kicking gig with Washington in 2015. Throughout his 6-year career, he’s fairly consistently hit his field goals in the low 80% range, with two exceptions. In 2015, and again in 2018, Hopkins hit over 89% of his field goal attempts. Digging into those two seasons, a few things stand out: 1) Other than when Hopkins was injured in 2017, those were the two seasons he had the fewest field goal attempts; 2) He was perfect from below 40 yards both seasons (a feat he only replicated in that shortened 2017 year), and he was his most accurate from 40-49 yards in those two seasons; 3) Those were both his most accurate seasons for extra points as well.
What unique factors were at work in 2015 and 2018? Tress Way and Nick Sundberg were constants up through 2020. I’d be curious to hear any theories in the comments.
How Does Hopkins Stack Up?
In 2015, Hopkins had the 9th best field goal percentage in the league (89.3%). The top 5 kickers in the league that year, in order, were Josh Brown, Dan Bailey, Stephen Hauschka, Adam Vinatieri, and Matt Prater.
The following season, Hopkins’ field goal percentage dropped to 81%, though it was, by far, the season with his most field goal attempts (42). Among kickers with more than 15 attempts, Hopkins was 21st in the league. The top 5 kickers in the league in 2016 were Justin Tucker, Matt Bryant, Ryan Succop, Stephen Hauschka, and Cairo Santos.
In 2017, Hopkins was injured and only attempted 17 field goals, achieving a 82% field goal percentage. The top 5 kickers in the league were (former Redskin) Graham Gano, Robbie Gould, Greg Zuerlein, Josh Lambo, and Stephen Gostkowski.
2018 was Hopkins’ most successful season kicking, hitting 89.7% of his field goal attempts. Even that number, though, only landed him at 10th in the league. The top 5 kickers were Robbie Gould, Aldrick Rosas, Matt Bryant, Mike Badgley, and Will Lutz.
In 2019, Hopkins’ field goal percentage dropped to 83.3%, landing him at 15th in the league. The top 5 kickers in the league were Josh Lambo, Justin Tucker, Chris Boswell, Dan Bailey, and Mason Crosby.
Unfortunately, 2020 was Hopkins’ worst season kicking to date, with his field goal percentage dropping again, this time to 79.4%, placing him at 22nd in the league. His extra point percentage was a miserable 93.8%, as he also missed two extra points last season. The top 5 kickers in the league were (former Redskin) Graham Gano, Chris Boswell, Younghoe Koo, Daniel Carlson, and Cairo Santos.
Looking back across his career, Hopkins has been a very average kicker for Washington. But, we also see that the group of the top kickers in the league is highly fluid from year to year.
Interestingly, former Redskin Graham Gano, who has twice been the top kicker in the league, actually has a lower career field goal percentage than does Hopkins (83.6% vs. 83.9%). The other multi-mention top 5 kickers include Dan Bailey (85.9%) - who seems to have stuck around the league forever, Stephen Hauschka (85.2%) - who has been around even longer, Robbie Gould (86.6%) - who is even older yet, Matt Bryant (85.6%) - who is downright ancient (and now retired), Josh Lambo (88.9%), Chris Boswell (88%), Justin Tucker (90.7%) - who is, rightfully, considered the best kicker of his generation, and Cairo Santos (83.1%) - who has been wildly inconsistent.
Washington could certainly do worse than Hopkins, but the real question now is, can it do better?
In terms of free agents, Dan Bailey, now 33, is available, coming off a terrible season with the Vikings where he hit 68.2% of his field goals. One time stud, Stephen Gostkowski (37) is also now available, though his performance with the Titans last year was underwhelming as well (69.2%). Mike Nugent (39), is coming off a decent - though abbreviated - season with the Cardinals (87.5%), and Aldrick Rosas (27) round out the list of free agents (72.7% last year).
Interestingly, the Patriots’ Nick Folk is under contract for 2021 (92.9% last year), but their undrafted rookie, Quinn Nordin, looks very solid on Thursday night, so the chances are strong one or the other ends up cut in a few weeks.
Nordin was considered one of the top 5 college kicking prospects in this year’s draft (72.4% FG%), with the others as follows: Jose Borregales (79.5%) was drafted by the Buccaneers. Evan McPherson (85%) was drafted by the Bengals. Blake Haubil, from Ohio State (80%), is still available, as is Riley Patterson from Memphis (77.1%). [NOTE: Hopkins’ college FG% was 78.6%]
Keith Duncan, out of Iowa, is another guy who might be interesting to look at (82.5%). Here’s a profile of him before last season:
Hawkeye fans will argue that he should’ve won the Lou Groza last year for the way he put the team on his back through most of the season. Duncan made four field goals apiece in wins over Iowa State, Purdue and Illinois. He was so clutch in several moments for Iowa, including the game-winning kick on the road at Nebraska, where he blew a kiss at Scott Frost in celebration. The North Carolina native was finally awarded a scholarship after the win over the Huskers. Duncan also made all 32 of his extra point attempts, earned first-team All-Big Ten and was named the league’s Kicker of the Year. Not to mention he tied for first in the FBS with 34 field goal attempts and 29 field goals made.
So, there are a variety of option on the table, which would you pursue?
How would you like to see Washington handle the kicking situation this year?
Just roll with Hopkins.
Bring in competition to camp.
Grab whoever the Patriots cut.
You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.