For the first time in 15 years, the New England Patriots are entrusting their kicking duties to a rookie.
Undrafted free agent Quinn Nordin defeated veteran incumbent Nick Folk in a training camp battle and will enter the season as the Patriots’ kicker. New England released Folk on Tuesday during final roster cuts.
What pushed Nordin, who went just 10-of-15 on kicks across the Patriots’ three preseason games, past the steady Folk? Special teams coordinator Cam Achord explained Wednesday.
“He had a couple of (rough) days here, but he’s really showed (an ability to) bounce back,” Achord said in a video conference. “He was really competitive. Obviously, it was a great competition throughout. He’s got to continue to improve that consistency and keep showing it, but definitely being able to bounce back. He had the one rough outing and then came back and had a solid performance the other day.
“That’s the big thing — you continue to get better. That’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to continue to look at guys. As long as they’re continuing to get better in their progression, it makes a big difference for you in the end.”
Nordin inserted himself into the roster discussion when he went a perfect 14-for-14 on field-goal attempts over two in-stadium practices, including several 50-plus-yarders that cleared the bar with room to spare. He followed that up by drilling 35-, 40- and 50-yard field goals in New England’s preseason opener against Washington, though he did miss an extra point in that game.
A disastrous three-miss outing against Philadelphia followed, but Nordin rebounded to hit from 37, 48 and extra-point distance in the Patriots’ preseason finale before pushing a late 54-yarder wide left. His “mental toughness,” Achord said, was a “big factor” in the Patriots’ decision.
“There’s going to be ups and downs throughout the season,” Achord said, “and being able to you know have the ability to bounce back and show some mental resolve there and fight through things is definitely something that you have to look at. Is it somebody that you can depend on moving forward?”
Nordin still needs to prove he can kick accurately on a weekly basis — if he can’t, he likely won’t be on the roster for long — but his physical gifts are obvious. He had a clear edge over the 36-year-old Folk in the power department, boasting what special teams captain Matthew Slater called “a cannon” of a leg.
Folk made 92.9 percent of his field goals last season, however, making the decision to go with Nordin a risky one. Nordin converted just 74.2 percent of his collegiate field goals at Michigan. Achord acknowledged the 23-year-old’s upside helped him win the job.
“I think you have to take into consideration, what is the ceiling?” Achord said. “What is a guy going to be in January, going to be at the end of the year? That’s the thing with any player. A rookie is going to continue to improve, usually, or a younger player, where a veteran or a guy that’s has been here a few years, you know what they’re going to be. So you have to take that into account.
“Is that the endgame? Is that the only thing that matters? Absolutely not. But I think that’s definitely one of the things you have to consider when you’re evaluating younger guys, older guys — where are these guys and where could these guys end up being and where can they be?”
Injuries also were an issue for Folk this summer. He was out of practice for 2 1/2 weeks and didn’t play in the first two preseason games.
The Patriots were the only team to offer Nordin a contract after the 2021 NFL Draft. By the time they reached out, the Michigan product already had begun scouring LinkedIn for job postings, believing his football career might be over. His Patriots contract included no guaranteed money, and he was the only UDFA in camp.
“He was a guy that when you talk to him, he loves the game of football,” said Achord, who along with special teams assistant Joe Houston worked to fine-tune Nordin’s kicking approach. “He’s invested, he loves this trade, he wants to get better every day. He had some intangibles — leg strength, leg power — that you look at. I’ve said before consistency was the thing that we had to work on with him and get better at, but there’s a lot of things that you could build off of.”
Nordin will be the first rookie to kick in a Patriots season opener since Stephen Gostkowski in 2006. At least one undrafted rookie has made New England’s roster in each of the last 18 seasons.
UPDATE (5 p.m. ET): This competition isn’t over yet. The Patriots are keeping Folk on their practice squad and can elevate him at any time if Nordin struggles.