Ending the draft by taking a place-kicker strikes a particularly hollow note for the Washington Redskins. The team used its final selection, a pick earned via a trade with the Tennessee Titans, on kicker Zach Hocker.
But the former Arkansas star might not be such a strange choice, especially when considering the long-standing issues at his position in D.C. Not since the days when Chip Lohmiller was booming everything through the uprights have the Redskins had a truly, dependable clutch kicker.
It may be too much to hope that Hocker can emerge as Lohmiller's long overdue heir apparent. In fairness, though, the player was prolific at the collegiate level, as NFL.com draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki points out:
Broke the school record for points by a kicker in 2011 with 118 after making 21 of 27 FGs with a long of 50 and 55 of 57 PATs. Also kicked off 93 times for a 67.8-yard average with 40 touchbacks. In 2012, made 11 of 18 FGs with a long of 46 and all 32 PATs, and kicked off 58 times for a 64.7-yard average with 39 touchbacks. In 2013, hit on 13 of 15 FGs with a career long of 54 and all 28 PATs, and kicked off 50 times for a 63.2-yard average with 34 touchbacks. Also punted seven times for a 45.7-yard average with a long of 77 and one inside the 20-yard line. Led the Razorbacks in scoring each season and holds school records for points by a kicker (354), FG percentage (77.2), PATs made (171), PATs attempted (173) and field goals (61).
Washington certainly showed a definite interest in Hocker. It doesn't sound like the Redskins snatched him from the depths of the 2014 class simply to make up the numbers, as ESPN 980 reporter Chris Russell notes:
Zach Hocker says he talked with the #Redskins at the combine. It was a very short chat with him. Has several school records.— Chris Russell (@Russellmania980) May 10, 2014
Leg strength could be one area where new head coach Jay Gruden and new special teams boss Ben Kotwica feel they need an upgrade. The numbers for current starter Kai Forbath do seem to support that view.
Forbath's longest converted kick in 2013 totalled 50 yards. He was 4-of-6 on kicks ranging between 40 and 49 yards. Forbath was also 1-of-2 on kicks 50 yards or longer, according to figures from NFL.com.
He also managed just 14 touchbacks from 57 kickoffs. Forbath's average of 60.2 yards was the third-lowest mark in football a year ago, per stats from NFL.com.
By contrast, Hocker put up some very impressive numbers last season. He boomed 34 touchbacks from only 50 kickoffs, at an average of 63.22 yards per kick.
Hocker also made 13 of 15 field goals and even chipped in with seven punts, per numbers from cfbstats.com. Forbath certainly does have some genuine competition now.
The fact that Washington used a pick it traded for to land Hocker says a lot. He reportedly made a favorable impression on Kotwica, according to Russell:
#Redskins Jay Gruden : They liked the leg strength of Zach Hocker the new PK from Arkansas.— Chris Russell (@Russellmania980) May 10, 2014
Opting for Hocker with a commodity as precious as a draft pick, even a seventh-rounder, is the latest proof that Washington is serious about fixing its dire special teams.
The unit was a league-wide embarrassment in 2013. But Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen have certainly committed to putting it right.
First they poached Kotwica from the New York Jets, a team traditionally excellent on special teams. Then they targeted a series of free agents who had strong roots as active and capable special teamers.
Allen signed inside linebackers Adam Hayward, Darryl Sharpton and Akeem Jordan. The trio shared expertise on special teams as a common trait.
That pattern of recruitment continued in this draft. Fourth-round pick Bashaud Breeland and seventh-rounder Ted Bolser can also provide help in football's third phase.
Hocker's arrival could be the next vital step in what has been a necessary overhaul that might even turn a glaring weakness into a team strength in 2014.