New Orleans Saints Roster Debate: Zach Hocker or Dustin Hopkins?


It’s been a few months since we’ve last looked at a roster battle on the New Orleans Saints. If you were to pan over the roster and assess the various positional areas, no greater area of concern exists than that of the kicker position.

I’ve long believed the New Orleans Saints have put a band-aid on the kicker spot. Just look at the carousel of kickers to grace the Saints organization under the Sean Payton era.

  • 2006 – John Carney (42) / Billy Cundiff (26)
  • 2007 – Martin Gramatica (32) / Olindo Mare (34)
  • 2008 – Martin Gramatica (33) / Garrett Hartley (22) / Taylor Mehlhaff (23)
  • 2009 – John Carney (45) / Garrett Hartley (23)
  • 2010 – John Carney (46) / Garrett Hartley (24)
  • 2011 – John Kasay (42)
  • 2012 – Garrett Hartley (26)
  • 2013 – Garrett Hartley (27) / Shayne Graham (36)
  • 2014 – Shayne Graham (37)

Traditionally, a lot of veterans have been handling the kicker duties for the black and gold in the Sean Payton era. We’re now faced with two youngsters, Zach Hocker (23) and Dustin Hopkins (24), to battle it out and potentially be the future of the franchise.

Let’s start with Dustin Hopkins. The Buffalo Bills used their 177th overall pick in the 5th Round of the 2013 NFL Draft to take the Florida State prospect. Hopkins won the starting job from then kicker Rian Lindell, but injuries knocked him out of the equation. Hopkins would get a shot to return as the lead kicker in 2014, but would be beat out by Dan Carpenter. Hopkins certainly had good comments from his NFL draft profile:

"Consistent, upright three-step approach on placements. Good trajectory on kicks, gets them up quickly with a strong downward strike on the ball. Misses are just outside of the uprights to the left or right, not major misfires. Flashes 55-yard range with NFL-caliber height on the kicks, not line-drives. Excellent strength and height on kickoffs, times well over 4.0 seconds consistently and gets the ball to the middle or front part of the end zone even with nice trajectory."

He has a cannon for a leg, as you’ll notice from this 55-yard game winning boot against Clemson as time expires.

Enter the competition: Zach Hocker, an Arkansas native who had the luxury of playing in front of his home crowd with the Razorbacks. Hocker was drafted by the Washington Redskins 228th overall (7th Round) in the 2014 Draft. Like Hopkins, Hocker would shine early by outperforming Kai Forbath, but would fail to make final roster cuts. After spending some time without a team, Hocker would find a home with the Miami Dolphins. The hope was that Hocker would challenge Caleb Sturgis for a starting gig, but Hocker was released on May 5.

Notes from his draft profile:

"Good leg speed. Consistently converted beyond 50 (3-4 as a senior) and has enough velocity to hang the ball on kickoffs. Well-grounded and humble.Soccer-style kicker whose leg strength and accuracy seemed to be weakening heading into his senior season, with diminished accuracy and range. Rebounded to make his senior season his best. Could warrant consideration in a camp."

By The Numbers – College

You could say that these virtual unknowns make things both exciting and nerve-racking. Some good news for those who worry resides in the fact that long-standing kicker John Carney currently serves as a mentor to both Hocker and Hopkins right now. Both kickers look to battle it out, and it likely won’t be until the very end of the preseason until we find out who wins the starting job.

You have to feel encouraged that the Saints were so confident in these two that they gave Shayne Graham the boot. Right now, it’s anybody’s game. However, this figures be one of the best training camp battles as we rapidly approach July 30.

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