We have entered the deepest depths of the NFL offseason. Free agency and the draft are behind us, while minicamp and training camp won't start until early June and late July, respectively. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
After all, until the late-August's roster cuts, players need to have secured their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 89 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
We'll start the series with the lowest jersey number issued, and it belongs to kicker Stephen Gostkowski.
Name: Stephen Gostkowski
Jersey number: 3
Opening day age: 33
Size: 6'1, 215 lbs.
2016 review: Despite a crucial missed extra point during the 2015 AFC championship game in Denver, Gostkowski entered the 2016 season projected to be one of the NFL's best kickers. And while his overall performance throughout the year was solid, the 33-year old had a down season when measured by his own excellent standards.
Of the 32 field goals he attempted during the regular season, Gostkowski made 27 (84.4%; 17th-best in the league) and went a perfect 7-of-7 during the playoffs. His performance on extra point was similar: Gostkowski made a 15th-best 93.9% of his regular season attempts (46 of 49) and was 7-of-7 in the postseason before missing his last two tries.
While none of his misses cost the team in 2016, Gostkowski was far from the near-automatic kicker he was from 2013 through 2015. Nevertheless, his field goal percentage was still better than in four of his 11 seasons and another aspect of his game was as impressive as it has ever been: doing kickoffs.
Of Gostkowski's 92 regular season kickoffs, 52 ended in touchbacks while the remaining 40 were returned an average of 19.3 yards – the 4th-best number in the NFL. Overall, the Patriots' opponents started an average drive on the 25.0-yard line, tops in the league and a testament to the team's special teams play and Gostkowski's kickoff abilities.
2017 preview: Despite struggling at times in 2016 and a salary cap hit of $4.5 million – the 10th-highest on the team –, Gostkowski appears to be a lock to make the Patriots' 53-man roster. After all, New England did not bring any competition on board through the draft or free agency.
Futhermore, his kick positioning became more consistent over the course of the season as the tendency to drift to the right – or over-correct and miss to the other side – was worked on. On top of that, Gostkowski is still a weapon on kickoffs; look no further than the Super Bowl to confirm the latter.
The major question entering the 2017 season therefore seems to be whether of not he can fully re-gain the confidence that made him the NFL's best kicker prior to the 2015 AFC title game. At times during last year's campaign, that appeared to be the case – so it would not be a surprise to see it happen.