Justin Tucker can very well be considered the best kicker in the NFL. As the leader in career field-goal percentage (90.2), he's the most accurate kicker ever.
But listening to Tucker talk Thursday afternoon after practice, it's clear he still puts longtime Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri on a pedestal.
"Adam Vinatieri is the greatest kicker of all time," Tucker said several days after the Ravens traveled to Indianapolis for two days of joint practices and a preseason game. "Getting a chance to just be around him … "
If there was no Vinatieri, there may have been no Tucker.
"He is absolutely my inspiration as a kicker," Tucker said. "He was the reason I took it upon myself to become a better kicker."
During Tucker's freshman and sophomore years at Westlake High School in Austin, Texas, he decided to get serious about kicking. He saw a "Sports Illustrated" article about Vinatieri, which included that he worked with coach Doug Blevins in Abingdon, Va. Tucker and his father reached out to Blevins, who flew to Austin to work with Tucker for about a week.
"This is a guy who has been around some really good kickers, and he told me, 'You have the opportunity to follow in Adam's footsteps,'" Tucker said. "I took that to heart and I haven't looked back since."
Vinatieri is now entering his 23rd NFL season at 45 years old. He won four Super Bowls (three with the Patriots and one with the Colts). He's a three-time Pro Bowler. In 2016, he set the NFL record for most consecutive field goals made (44).
Vinatieri ranks 13th on the all-time accuracy list (84.3 percent), but his longevity and clutchness are unmatched. And he's still getting it done. On Monday night, Vinatieri boomed a 57-yard field goal through the uprights, tying his career high – from 16 years ago.
Later in the game, Tucker attempted a 59-yard field goal but was wide right. For one night, the veteran showed he's still on top.
"I didn't 'kick it,' so to speak, so much with him during practice, but in pregame I got an opportunity to talk to him a little bit," Tucker said. "It was definitely great to get an opportunity to meet a guy that I really look up to and a guy who has done so well for so long."