ASHBURN, Va. -- The feel-good vibes lasted a year, diminished in his second year by a series of head-scratching misses. Dustin Hopkins earned praise after his first season, but exits his second with plenty of questions. Or, rather, maybe one big one: Which kicker is he, the one who ranked high as a rookie or low this past season?
“When I was on a streak, everyone was like, ‘Oh, you’re the best thing since sliced bread,’” Hopkins said. “Then you miss a couple kicks … That’s field goal kicking for you.”
Yes it is. Hopkins did not have the sort of season he or anyone expected. The Washington Redskins stuck with him, even as he made only 81 percent of his field goals (34-for-42) to rank 25th in the NFL. He also ranked 21st in extra point percentage after missing three attempts. Hopkins’ worst miss: the 34-yarder in overtime of the tie versus Cincinnati.
It was not a successful follow-up to his first season. In 2015, Hopkins made 25 of 28 kicks to rank ninth in percentage. That season is why Washington rode out Hopkins’ rough stretches in ’16. The Redskins were wise to do so considering Hopkins is young (26) and has a strong leg. In the past two years combined, he has 117 touchbacks on kickoffs -- his 68 percent rate ranks ninth, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
The Redskins have been accused of unloading kickers too soon (for what it’s worth, over the past two years combined Hopkins ranks 21st in field goal percentage at 84.3; former Redskins kicker Graham Gano, now with Carolina, ranks 30th at 81.1 percent).
But you can only have so much patience with kickers considering the impact of their misses. Hopkins understands.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated at different points this year,” Hopkins said. “It’s not an overall performance I expect for myself. I expect better and the club does, too, and I know the fans do, too. Rightly so. It’s unfortunate; there were so many misses that were off the posts or over the posts or a yard to the right. There might have been two or three balls -- as crazy as it sounds -- that I felt I did not strike well this past year. It was frustrating seeing how close some were. It’s the nature of field goal kicking, that they don’t all go your way.”
Hopkins said he’ll watch other videos of kickers to see if there’s anything he can swipe. He said he likes the leg swing of Dallas’ Dan Bailey and the unique swing of New England’s Stephen Gostkowski and the ball-striking of Baltimore’s Justin Tucker.
“You take pieces from different guys to see if you can improve your own technique,” Hopkins said. “You don’t overreact and go back to ground zero. I have a lot to build on that’s positive. At the same time I’m looking at what I do and what others do and learn from them.”