The New England Patriots, who started their 2018 mandatory minicamp yesterday, currently have the maximum of 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the next weeks, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with New England's kicker.
Name: Stephen Gostkowski
Jersey number: 3
Opening day age: 34
Size: 6’1, 215 lbs.
2017 review: Coming off a sub-par 2016 campaign (at least when measured by his own lofty standards), Stephen Gostkowski was able to bounce back in 2017 and prove that he is still among the best kickers in all of football. Even though he still had his misses, he was more consistent as a whole and improved both his field goal and extra point percentages when compared to last year.
Of the 40 field goals he attempted during the regular season, Gostkowski made 37. His 92.5% conversion percentage ranks him as the 5th-best place kicker in the league and posts a noticeable improvement over last year's 84.4%. His performance on extra points was similar: Gostkowski made an 11th-best 95.7% of his regular season attempts (45 of 47), up from 93.9% over the course of 2016.
As good as Gostkowski's regular season performance was, he did cool off a bit during the playoffs. He made only three of his five field goal attempts during the tournament, with one of the misses coming in Super Bowl 52 (to be fair, it did come off a bad snap by Joe Cardona). He was also unable to make one of his four extra point attempts in the title game after starting the postseason a perfect 8-for-8.
One thing that hardly ever fluctuates when it comes to Gostkowski is his outstanding work in the kickoff game. Of his 99 regular season kickoffs, 41 ended in touchbacks while the remaining 58 were returned an average of 18.8 yards – the 4th-best number in the NFL. Overall, the Patriots’ opponents started an average drive on the 24.8-yard line, tops in the league and a testament to the team’s special teams play and Gostkowski’s kickoff abilities.
2018 preview: Despite missing two kicks on the game's biggest stage and having the eighth-highest salary cap hit on the team at $5.0 million, Gostkowski appears to be a lock to make the Patriots' 53-man roster for a 13th year. After all, he is still among the NFL's best kickers. Furthermore, New England did not bring any competition on board through the draft or free agency.
All in all, Gostkowski is still a consistent, high-percentage kicker as well as a weapon in the kickoff game whose ball placement is able to tremendously help the Patriots in the field position battle. The main question entering the 2018 season therefore does not concern the 34-year old's abilities but rather his mental makeup: Will Gostkowski be able to hit his target when a game or the season are on the line?
Statistically speaking, the chances of that happening are very good. But after missing potentially crucial kicks during the Patriots' last three playoff runs – 2015 AFC Championship Game, Super Bowl 51, Super Bowl 52 –, this question is a legitimate one to be raised. Then again, Gostkowski's overall 2017 performance certainly was an encouraging one, so he should still be seen as one of the least of New England's worries.