For the last 10 seasons, the Los Angeles Rams have trotted out Johnny Hekker when the offense stalled and they were forced to punt. In 2022, veteran Riley Dixon and rookie Cameron Dicker will battle to fill Hekker’s footsteps as punter, holder and passer.
These are huge shoes to fill. When Les Snead took over as the Rams General Manager in 2012, he signed Hekker as an undrafted free agent (UDFA) out of Oregon State. The 6’5” ex-high school quarterback repaid Snead by becoming, arguably, the best punter in the NFL.
Over his decade as a Ram, he was a six-time All-Pro, averaged 46.7 yards on 727 punts, and completed 14 of 23 passes for 186 yards. He was also renowned for his ability to drop punts inside the twenty yard line and avert the touchback. But the Rams released him in March, and now either Dixon and Dicker are next in line to replace him.
Standing 6’4” at 221 lbs., Dixon was selected at the 2016 NFL Draft out of Syracuse in the seventh round (#228) by the Denver Broncos. He was named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie team after averaging 45.7 yards per punt and dropping 28 inside the twenty yard line.
After two seasons in Denver, Dixon was traded to the New York Giants. He spent four years in the Big Apple, punting 279 times for 12,5898 yards and a 45.2 average. This past March, the Giants were needing to make some moves to get under the cap, and released Dixon.
Coming out of college, Dixon was not known for having a powerful leg. He was a “hang time” guy, with 41.6 percent of his kicks being fair caught in his final two Syracuse years. Now out of the old Carrier Dome and kicking mostly outside in the NFL, his fair catch rate has been 25.85 percent, putting him squarely in the middle of NFL punter stats. Roughly the same for his punts-inside-the-twenty stats, around the top 20. One stat that needs intense scrutiny is blocked punts. Dixon has had five punts blocked over his six years, one of the most in the NFL. In comparison, Hekker has had five blocks over 10 years.
Widely known as a four year starting place kicker for the Texas Longhorns, Dicker took on the punting role as a senior in 2021. He had 47 boots for 2200 yards at a 46.8 yard average and was named the first-team All-Big 12 punter. He logged 16 punts over 50 yards, 11 inside the twenty, and forced 21 fair catches. His punting career actually started as a 2020 junior when the Longhorns regular punter went down with a late season injury. Dicker stepped in for the final eight punts of the season and a 43.6 average.
The Rams picked up Dicker as a rookie UDFA. The 6’ 1” 216 pounder was a two-time Texas All-State kicker and left Austin as Texas’ all-time leading scorer. Even with his inexperience, Dicker was named in the top five draftable punters by The Pro Football Network and Lance Zirlein at NFL.com said he had “touch on coffin corner kicks” and was “accurate in his directional punts”.
Dicker is a developmental prospect at punter. He looks like he has the natural traits to handle the the role but coming into the league with only 55 punts under his belt, it may take some time. If the Rams play to form, their punter has historically been able to handle holding duties on PAT’s and field goals and getting down that ever-important timing and proper placement will take numerous reps.
So, Who who fills Hekker’s shoes?
Dixon is a known-quantity. He’s a six-year pro and his punting length didn’t drop a whole lot when he left the thin air of Denver and moved to the Meadowlands. He ranks in the middle of the pack or slightly below in punting stats. In 2020 and ‘21 the New York Giants kicking game, although not scoring a lot, had good PAT and FG conversion percentages. This would point to Dixon being a capable holder. In what may be the most salient point, current Rams Special Teams Coordinator Joe Decamillis had the same role, back in 2016, when Denver drafted Dixon.
Dicker is one of those rare three-position prospects (punting, kickoffs, PATs) and could add real value if he can be developed. His college days saw him play and succeed in big games against top competition. He has an athletic profile, a strong leg, and although it’s modest production, he’s not afraid to be physical and get it on tackles. Yes, he’s short on punting experience, but he already has the hang time and directional skillsets. Can he be the Rams long term answer as punter and backup kicker?