Sophomore Spotlight: Dustin Hopkins

After missing his entire rookie season due to injury, Dustin Hopkins faces an uphill battle to make the Bills roster this year. (Photo: Kevin Hoffman — USA Today Sports)

BBD Assistant Editor: Ryan Talbot

When the Buffalo Bills drafted Dustin Hopkins in the 6th round (No. 177 overall) of the 2013 NFL draft, it meant that Rian Lindell’s job was in danger. After spending his entire rookie season on injured reserve, however, it’s his job that’s in danger going into the 2014 season.

Making the Team

The second kicker selected in last year’s draft, CBS Sports’ NFLDraftScout.com ranked him as the best kicker available in the class.

There was a lot to like about Hopkins. He finished his career at Florida State as the NCAA FBS all-time leading scorer with 459 points. In addition to scoring points, Hopkins’ big leg also helped on kickoffs, where he forced 137 touchbacks on 347 kicks (39 percent). In his senior year, he went 25-of-30 on field goal attempts and was named a second-team Associated Press All-American.

Hopkins’ route to making the team was simple: Outperform Lindell in training camp and the preseason.

Both kickers were inconsistent in training camp, but it was apparent that Hopkins had the stronger leg. In the preseason, Hopkins, not Lindell, was brought out for field goal attempts in the team’s first two preseason games. Hopkins made all four attempts in the first two weeks and on August 19th, Lindell was released. Hopkins finished the preseason 6-for-6 and seemed ready for the regular season.

2013 Season

Hopkins’ season was over before it actually began. He was injured in practice on Sept. 2 and was immediately replaced.

Carpenter, who was released by the Dolphins after they selected Caleb Sturgis in the fifth round of last year’s draft, ended up kicking well enough to hold the Bills job all year. Hopkins never returned from his injury and was placed on injured reserve in October.

2014 Outlook

Hopkins’ job is in jeopardy for 2014 after the Bills re-signed Carpenter to a four-year contract this offseason. That said, Hopkins has two opportunities to keep a roster spot.

Hopkins could outperform Carpenter and winning the kicker job outright. This might seem unlikely after Carpenter made 33 of 36 field goal attempts last season, but his career has been full of ups and downs. Last season, the kicker had a career high in field goal percentage at 91.7 percent, but his career average is only 83.8 percent. If Carpenter struggles in training camp and the preseason, the door will open for Hopkins to become the team’s kicker.

A more likely scenario that could save a roster spot for Hopkins is if he earns a role as the team’s kickoff specialist. Buffalo struggled mightily on special teams in 2013, so having a kicker that can force touchbacks more consistently would certainly help. Carpenter finished last season with 34 touchbacks on 83 kickoffs (41 percent). If Hopkins proves he can consistently kick the ball through the end zone, there’s a chance the Bills could carry two kickers on their 2014 roster.

Hopkins has a chance to stick with Buffalo’s roster, but he’ll have to prove his worth early and often in training camp and the preseason.

More Sophomore Spotlights:

EJ Manuel

Robert Woods

Kiko Alonso (Injured)

Marquise Goodwin

Duke Williams

Jonathan Meeks

Chris Gragg

Nickell Robey

Jeff Tuel

Tags: 2013 NFL Draft, Buffalo Bills, Dan Carpenter, Dustin Hopkins, Florida State, Kickers, Kickoffs, Sophomore Spotlights

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