When Tom Obarski was signed by the Giants at the end of the 2015 season after spending the season on the Bengals' practice squad, the Bengals decided to sign Zach Hocker to add some competition for veteran kicker Mike Nugent this summer in training camp.
Coming out of high school, kicker Hocker was a 2 star recruit out of Russellville, Arkansas. He joined the Arkansas Razorbacks in 2010, becoming their kicker for four years in Fayetteville. He was a pretty good kicker in his freshman and senior seasons, making 84+ percent of his kickers. Those two seasons were sandwiching some awful seasons as a sophomore and junior when he made 77.8 percent of his kicks and 61.1 percent of his kicks in those seasons.
Overall, in college he was pretty solid, although not great, on makeable kicks, going 29 for 42 (85.7%) on field goal attempts of 39 yards or less. But once he reached 40 yards or more, he only made 19 of 30 kicks (63.3%).
His senior season was his best in terms of accuracy and length, and got him drafted by the Redskins in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft. He failed to make the team, and bounced around before becoming the Saints kicker to start the 2015 season. He began the season well enough, making four field goals on four attempts in Week 1, and after five games he compiled an 8 for 10 mark. Ultimately a 1 for 3 performance in Week 6 (misses from 48 yards and 51 yards) resulted in his release. He was later picked up by the Rams, playing a pair of games, scoring an extra point against the Bengals and making one field goal on one attempt against the Cardinals the next week.
Experience: Year 3
Weight: 191 pounds
Why he might improve in 2016
Sometimes players just need a third season of experience before everything clicks. Hocker already has two seasons of professional football under his belt, including game experience last year. Perhaps, if he’s gotten past any rookie jitters, and if everything clicks, he could emerge as a solid NFL kicker. But, the Bengals already have a kicker who they feel is solid in Nugent. And, Hocker would need to prove he's much better than he has been to get a chance to play for the Bengals in the regular season.
Why he might regress in 2016
Throughout his college and pro career, Hocker has failed to connect on short kicks as well as long kicks. His leg strength is adequate, but not elite. Putting all of this together, he may have already maxed out, meaning there is nowhere to go but down. Hopefully that’s not the case, but the Bengals likely won’t give him a real chance to improve and beat out Nugent.
Odds of making the roster
The Bengals like to bring in kickers who have little chance of pushing Nugent for the starting spot, preferring to stay with the status quo. The kickers they bring in are mainly used as insurance if anything happens to Nugent in the preseason, and to split kicking duties before the regular season begins. Hocker doesn’t have much of a track record showing that he is a real threat to Nugent, and the Bengals don’t have much of a track record of moving on from veteran kickers. Therefore, Hocker’s roster chances are more or less tied to an injury to Nugent.
I’d guess the likelihood of Nugent getting injured in preseason is 5 percent or less, and would give Hocker the same odds of making the roster.