The easiest way for a kicker to become popular in Baltimore is to simply not be named Billy Cundiff.
Enter Justin Tucker.
Aside from his different name, Tucker has been displaying the talent, confidence and big foot that won him the kicking job during training camp this past August. Tucker, like many kickers, went undrafted, but after his performance so far this season, many teams are probably kicking themselves for not using a late-round pick to snag the former Texas Longhorn.
Throughout his first 11 games as a professional, Tucker has been nothing short of clutch. In San Diego, he was forced to make a pair of 38-yard field goals to tie and eventually win the game in overtime.
Tucker’s stats are impressive as well; he’s only missed two kicks out of 24 attempts (91.7%) and leads the AFC with 11 field goals of more than 40 yards. His achievements on the field have won over of much of the fan base and have plenty calling for Tucker’s name to be added to the AFC Pro Bowl roster as a rookie.
While it may be far-fetched, Tucker still has a shot to pull off the unthinkable and land in Hawaii. However, there is also plenty of competition vying to win the title of the AFC’s best kicker.
The primary obstacle in Tucker’s way happens to be his mentor and fellow University of Texas alum, Cleveland Browns kicker Phil Dawson.
Dawson, the 14-year veteran (and only player remaining from the original roster of the 1999 rebirth of the Browns), has been perfect this season (21 for 21, 100%). Early in the season, Tucker set the Ravens franchise record with four field goals of 50+ yards, but Dawson has bested that mark by making all five of his attempts from greater than 50 yards this year.
For comparison’s sake, Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski represented the AFC in the 2011 Pro Bowl. Janikowski tied the NFL record with a 63-yard field goal against the Denver Broncos and made 31 of 35 attempts (88.6%).
To see where Tucker stands, here is his resume heading into Week 13 (all rankings in AFC) :
- Distance – 1st – 56 yards (Week 2 vs. Philadelphia)
- FG of 40+ Yards – 1st – 11 total
- FG Made – 3rd – 22 made attempts (trails Succop and Janikowski 23)
- FG Attempts – T-5th – 24 attempts (T-Janikowski, Leader: Vinatieri 28)
- Percentage – T-6th– 91.7% (T-Novak, Leader: Dawson 100%)
Even though it’s not always an indicator, kicking percentage usually carries the most weight in determining who gets the Pro Bowl nod. Tucker’s best chance of leapfrogging Dawson is to kick perfectly and hope that Dawson misses at least two attempts.
Another thing going against Tucker is his age. Though the game supposedly honors just the current season, typically, Pro Bowl players are honored after showing consistency over several years.
Any Ravens fan can attest to this as Lardarius Webb was snubbed after a breakout season in 2011. However, one notable exception to this rule was Cundiff himself in 2010.
An argument can be made that Dawson is more valuable to his team because the Browns offense rarely scores. Unfortunately for the Ravens, the same can be said of them outside of the confines of M&T Bank Stadium.
Tucker has already converted two game-winning kicks in his short career and given how the Ravens offense falls apart on the road, his value becomes even more apparent.
Regardless of whether or not he makes the Pro Bowl, Tucker has been remarkable to watch thus far. Any kicker is only a few bad misses from being run out of town, but at least Tucker shows that the Ravens made the right decision, gambling on a rookie versus sticking with their own former Pro Bowl kicker (who, despite praise from John Harbaugh, showed he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn).
Football is all about business decisions and it looks like Tucker was the right one, accolades or not.