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Late for Work 8/9: Justin Tucker Named the Most Underrated Player in the NFL

K Justin Tucker
K Justin Tucker

Justin Tucker Named the Most Underrated Player in the NFL

On the same day that Justin Tucker signed a four-year extension that again makes him the league's highest-paid kicker, he surprisingly found himself at the top of another list.

Tucker is widely regarded as the greatest kicker in NFL history, but Frelund contended that he still doesn't get the recognition he deserves, noting that he has never made the NFL's annual Top 100 Players rankings, which are voted on by the players themselves.

"We all know he's a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, but no Top 100 love thus far in his decorated career?" Frelund wrote. "Who do I need to contact to get him on the list? At least the Ravens understand his value."

Frelund may have a point about Tucker being underrated. As noted in Late for Work last week, Adam Vinatieri beat Tucker by one vote in an ESPN survey of 50 experts, reporters and analysts that determined the greatest players of all time at each position.

And, yeah, Tucker being excluded from the Top 100 Players rankings is bogus. However, there's a good chance Tucker breaks through that glass ceiling this year.

The Top 100 countdown kicks off Sunday on NFL Network, and Frelund noted that "five players will make their Top 100 debuts in Episode 1 (Nos. 100-91), including one five-time All-Pro who's been overlooked by his peers for a decade."

Tucker is a five-time All-Pro and entering his 11th season.

ESPN's Ryan Clark Says Lamar Jackson Is Best Quarterback in the AFC North

Cincinnati's Joe Burrow was the overwhelming winner of a Twitter poll by ESPN's "First Take" that asked who the best quarterback is in the AFC North. With more than 9,000 votes cast, Burrow is at 55 percent, followed by Lamar Jackson (27 percent), Cleveland's Deshaun Watson (12.6 percent) and Pittsburgh's Mitch Trubisky (5.4 percent).

ESPN analyst Ryan Clark strongly disagreed with the results. He had nothing but praise for fellow LSU alum Burrow, who led the Bengals to the Super Bowl last season, but said Jackson is the division's top quarterback.

"Lamar Jackson is the guy who was the MVP in only his second season," Clark said. "Lamar Jackson, with all the injuries that the Baltimore Ravens had, had the Ravens at No. 1 in the AFC North at his time of injury. I think people tend to forget what this team was dealing with last year … and Lamar Jackson was still finding ways for this football team to not only compete, but to win and be the No. 1 team in the AFC North."

Clark added that because of Jackson's unique skill set, opposing AFC North teams have specific days in training camp dedicated to preparing to face him twice a season.

Case in point: Clark shared a conversation he had recently with Bengals Defensive Coordinator Lou Anarumo, who told him he certainly wasn't the anonymous defensive coordinator who made disparaging comments about Jackson's ability as a passer to The Athletic.

"I know we're so comfortable with what we've always known the quarterback position to be, but I believe that Lamar Jackson adds something to a team that you just can't explain and you just can't quantify,'' Clark said.

Pass Rush Identified As Ravens' Achilles' Heel

ESPN's Bill Barnwell named the Achilles' heel for 14 Super Bowl contenders. For the Ravens, it's the pass rush.

"The Ravens will lean on 2021 first-rounder Odafe Oweh, who had five sacks and 15 quarterback knockdowns as a rookie," Barnwell wrote. "Former reserve linebacker Tyus Bowser led the team with seven sacks a year ago, but most of those were of the cleanup or coverage variety. Bowser created 27 initial pressures, per ESPN Stats & Information research, a solid number but not otherworldly.

"Oweh had 34 initial pressures, and the Ravens will count on him to improve that number in a larger role. ... So much rides on an Oweh breakout for the league's 28th-ranked defense by DVOA a year ago."

Barnwell noted that veteran Justin Houston had just 4.5 sacks last season, down from eight in 2020 and 11 in 2019, and second-round pick David Ojabo, who is rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon, isn't expected to be ready to play until October at the earliest.

Moreover, the Ravens' depth at outside linebacker took a hit last week when veteran Vince Biegel suffered a season-ending Achilles tear.

There is cause for optimism, however. Judging by how Oweh has performed in training camp, the breakout Barnwell said the Ravens are counting on from him appears to be on track. As for Houston, he made more of an impact last season than his 4.5 sacks would suggest. He led the team with 17 quarterback hits.

With the addition of veteran Michael Pierce and third-round pick Travis Jones, the Ravens also figure to get more sacks from their defensive linemen than the 5.5 the unit recorded in 2021. It also wouldn't be a surprise if Justin Madubuike takes a big step forward in his third season.

Our Ryan Mink recently wrote about why he expects the pass rush to be better than people think.

Jets, Ravens' Week 1 Opponent, May Be Without Injured RT Mekhi Becton All Season

The New York Jets, who host the Ravens in Week 1, may have lost starting right tackle Mekhi Becton for the season. Becton, the 11th-overall pick in 2020, suffered an injury to his right knee during yesterday's practice.

"Becton will have additional tests on Tuesday to determine a diagnosis, but the Jets' concern level was elevated after receiving the MRI results," ESPN’s Rich Cimini wrote. "One source said the assumption is that Becton, 23, will miss significant time."

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