Justin Tucker Has Chance to Be Greatest Kicker of All Time
Tom Brady might not be the only GOAT on the field Sunday.
Justin Tucker is regarded by many to be the best kicker in the NFL today. This morning, he was named the Special Teams Player of the Month for October.
But could the Ravens' special teams superstar go down as the greatest ever at his position?
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec posed that question to several former kickers, including the only two men inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame exclusively as placekickers – Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen.
The consensus was that Tucker could very well end up being considered the best of all time, and already is in the discussion.
"Justin Tucker is spectacular," Stenerud said. "He's the best in the NFL today, and if you're the best in the NFL today, you're one of the best of all time."
Stenerud, who played from 1967-1985, said he doesn't like to compare modern kickers to those from his generation because of changes in the kicking game (more pristine fields, better balls, specialized long snappers and highly-skilled holders, increased repetitions, personalized coaches and routines, and sophisticated workout programs), but he believes Tucker would be elite in any era.
"I bet if he kicked back (in our day), he'd be right up there with the best," Stenerud said. "It's hard right now to be head and shoulders above everybody because everybody is so good."
Tucker's numbers speak for themselves. In his eighth season, he is the most accurate field-goal kicker in history (90.7 percent) and has converted 261 of 262 extra-point attempts. Stenerud's career field goal percentage was 66.8 percent.
Tucker is the only kicker in the league this season who is still perfect (16-for-16 on field-goal attempts, 20-for-20 on extra-point tries). He's made 21 consecutive regular-season field-goal attempts since missing a 56-yarder in Week 16 last year. A few weeks ago, Tucker became the fastest kicker in NFL history to amass 1,000 points.
With Tucker's track record, Baltimore's man with the golden foot is well on his way to being fitted for a gold jacket after his playing career has concluded.
"People always ask me who is the best of all-time. Well, it's Adam Vinatieri, because of what he's done over his entire career, continuing to get better in the pressure moments," CBS analyst and former NFL kicker Jay Feely said. "Justin, if he continues on this path that he's on, he's going to be the best that's ever played the (position).
"I think Adam [Vinatieri] will certainly get in the Hall of Fame when he's done. And I think Justin, as he continues to go, he's almost done enough now, in this short time, where you give him another four or five years, yeah, he'll have done enough. When you're the best ever at a position, of course, you should be in the Hall of Fame."
Andersen said: "Everybody will look at the body of work when Justin's finished. I don't want to give him the benefit of the doubt all the way through his career, but it's looking pretty darned good right now. He's setting the standard for sure and making everybody else look kind of average, to be honest with you. It's very impressive. If he has another 1,000 (points) in the next eight years, he's going to shatter all records."
Tucker told Zrebiec he does think about his place in history on occasion, but not during the season.
"While you're in the middle of a football season, in the middle of practice, lining up a kick, I'm not thinking about being legendary," Tucker said. "I'm thinking of making the most of whatever opportunity I have in front of me at that moment.
"At the end of the season or at the end of a career when you look back and reflect on the good times, the tough times and everything in between, I think it would be untrue if any of us didn't want to look back on our careers and say, 'I gave it everything I had and hopefully it's enough to be considered one of the best to ever do whatever it is that each of us may be doing.'"
Tucker will go against the New England Patriots this Sunday. Three years ago, the Patriots spoiled Tucker's perfect season by blocking a field goal on a leap over the middle by linebacker Shea McClellin. Tucker finished 38-of-39 that season.
Bulletin Board Material for Patriots, Ravens?
Did comments by Ravens tight end Nick Boyle give the undefeated Patriots more motivation heading into their Sunday night game at M&T Bank Stadium?
When asked about the Patriots defense, which has been historically dominant to this point in the season, Boyle said: "We'll see how good they are once we play them. I don't think they've seen anyone like our offense or like Lamar. They're a good team and we'll need to bring our 'A' game."
Seems like Boyle was simply expressing confidence in his team while also giving credit to the opponent. Still, NFL Network's Mike Giardi believes Boyle's comments will fuel the Patriots.
NBC Sports Boston's Nick Goss wrote that Boyle didn't say anything inflammatory, but that doesn't mean New England players won't use his remarks for extra motivation.
"Ravens tight end Nick Boyle made some comments Wednesday that don't rise to the level of what you'd typically call 'bulletin board material,' but they still might find their way into the Patriots locker room regardless," Goss wrote.
"To be clear, nothing Boyle said here is incorrect," Goss added. "We probably will get a better sense of how good this Patriots team really is Sunday. He's also correct in saying New England hasn't played against a quarterback like Ravens star Lamar Jackson, who received lots of praise from Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on Monday."
Speaking of bulletin board material, "Good Morning Football's" Nate Burleson may have provided the Ravens with some this week when he said the Ravens should consider it a victory if they can just keep the game close against the Patriots.
"Every player will think what I'm about to say is disrespectful, but it's make it a close game," Burleson said. "Patriots are that good where I don't expect the Baltimore Ravens to win. And maybe they can use this as billboard material and put it around the facility."
Personally, I don't think either team needs any more motivation to get fired up for Sunday night's prime time showdown.
Ravens Face 'True Gauntlet' to Make the Playoffs
Burleson also noted that the Ravens (5-2) will have to run through a "true gauntlet" to make the playoffs despite the fact that they currently hold a two-game lead in the AFC North over the second-place Pittsburgh Steelers and a three-game advantage over the preseason favorite Cleveland Browns.
He's referring to a six-week stretch beginning this Sunday in which the Ravens face five teams who currently have winning records, including the league's two undefeated teams -- the Patriots and San Francisco 49ers.
"What's going to happen over the next six weeks is going to be very telling," Burleson said.
As difficult as that stretch may be, the odds of the Ravens qualifying for the playoffs are still strong. Heading into their bye week, the Ravens had an 86.5 percent chance of making the playoffs and 80.5 percent chance of winning the division, according to ESPN analytics.
NFL.com analytics expert Cynthia Frelund's projection is a bit more conservative, as she gives the Ravens a 62 percent chance of making the playoffs. Those are the third-best odds in the AFC behind the Patriots (90 percent) and Kansas City Chiefs (78 percent).
Meanwhile, 24 of NFL.com's 26 analysts predicted the Ravens will win the AFC North. The other two analysts (one of whom is former Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas) went with Cleveland (2-5), which faces just two teams who currently have winning records (Ravens, Buffalo Bills) and plays the Miami Dolphins and Cincinnati Bengals (twice), both of whom are winless.
- In Bleacher Report's Matt MIller's latest 2020 mock draft, he has the Ravens selecting Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses at No. 29 overall. "This is a match made in heaven, as Baltimore seems to be where all Alabama players land in the NFL draft," Miller wrote. "This one also happens to be a major position of need, as the Ravens miss linebacker C.J. Mosley in the middle of the defense."