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Justin Tucker and the rise of the NFL kicker

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Justin Tucker, the kicker for the Baltimore Ravens (and, on occasion, the entire offense), will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

In the summer, he signed a $2.356 million second round tender. This season, Tucker has gone 10-11 on field goal attempts (two out of three on 50+), hit all nine of his extra point attempts, and, most recently, hit a 52 yard game winner against the Steelers at Heinz Field.

Jamison Hensley of ESPN reported that it “was the longest field goal by an opponent at Heinz Field before a hostile crowd and a national television audience.”

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None of this should come as a surprise. Tucker, an undrafted free agent out of Texas, helped propel the Ravens to their first Super Bowl in the Harbaugh era by hitting a double overtime game winning field goal in Denver from 47 yards out.

In 2013, on Monday Night Football, Tucker went six for six against the Lions including the 61-yard game winner.

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Clutch

Hensley perfectly summed up Tucker’s clutchness when he said:

“Tucker is 12-of-12 on field goal attempts to either tie or put his team ahead in the fourth quarter or overtime, according to ESPN Stats & Information."

"Of his eight game winners, five have come from 44 yards or longer and the one Thursday night happened to be in one of the trickiest stadiums for kickers.”

For his career, Tucker has never missed an extra point, and is 89.9% on field goals (including 16 of 23 from 50+).

Difficulties elsewhere

While Tucker has seen sustained success, this past weekend appeared to show a significant problem with other kickers around the NFL.

Josh Scobee was unable to put away the Ravens (twice), while rookie Jason Myers of the Jaguars missed two potential game-winners from 53 and 48 yards.

In week four, there were 18 misses altogether. This high number is quite shocking, especially considering as Myers and Scobee could have won the games for their teams, but it does not appear to be unusual statistically.

According to USA today:

“The overall field-goal percentage (83.5%) is currently down only slightly from 2014 (84%).”

Therefore, this weekend seems to be a bit overblown. Obviously, this number of misses is unusual for one weekend, but it is statistically insignificant. However, the focus on kickers should remain relevant throughout the entire season simply because of the new extra point rule.

New challenge

Moving the ball back to the 15-yard line has created a bigger challenge for kickers and more closely resembles a field goal than having the ball on the two-yard line.

Bill Barnwell, in an article for Grantland.com, breaks down the significance of this move. He counts the extra points as field goals to show that there have been over 530 field goal attempts (that includes the extra points), while there were 987 field goals all of last season (not including extra points).

Again, this is due to the fact that the extra point has been moved back significantly and does not work as a guarantee as it did in the past. This means that kickers are being used much more than normal and will have much more time in the spotlight.

Moreover, kickers will not be as accurate with extra points. There have already been 18 misses this season, more than double than in 2014 (eight).

That means by the end of the season if a kicker has gone 100% for extra points, that number finally has significance. In the past, if a kicker did not have 100% it was cause for concern, whereas now it is a resume builder.

Take, for example, the game between the Broncos and the Chiefs two weeks ago. Peyton Manning threw a TD pass to Emmanuel Sanders with 36 seconds remaining.

The Broncos were down 23-24. What if Brandon McManus misses the extra point? A plausible scenario and one that would have lead to Alex Smith taking a knee for the victory (assuming of course the onside kick doesn’t work).

The kick represents a game-winning field goal (or in this case, game tying field goal) much more than just an extra point, the term “extra point” finally lives up to it’s title. Every other year it could have been called the “gimme point,” but now it holds weight.

Wear and tear

Again turning to Barnwell, he predicts that kickers will have about 70-80 field goal attempts by the end of the season; that number could lead to a lot of wear and raises two interesting, and possible, outcomes.

First, as Barnwell addresses, this “could make the Gostowskis and Baileys worth even more money.” (Not to mention the Tuckers).

I completely agree. Kickers will have the chance to show their worth to the team through field goal and extra point percentages, as well as durability and consistency.

With this higher output, we could see the end of the Adam Vinatieri's of the NFL. No more lasting into the forties (I admit he shows little sign of slowing up after hitting a 54-yard field goal against the Jags).

Bullpen

The other change we may see is the addition of a kicker to the NFL roster, almost like a bullpen.

Maybe coaches have a kicker simply for extra points. Most kickers in the league, and college, seem capable of hitting from the 15-yard line, and by having an extra kicker, coaches can save their field goal kickers for the more important situations.

This could help eliminate wear, and possibly maintain confidence as kickers would not need to worry as much about the extra point. Of course, this scenario seems highly unlikely, but in this new age of the kicker it is quite possible.

Big money

In the end, expect to see many young and talented kickers get paid big contracts this year.

Greg Zuerlein and Justin Tucker could surpass the massive (for a kicker) contract of Stephen Gostowski (four years $17.2 million).

Dan Bailey’s contract of seven years, $22.5 million, seems like the length for these two young kickers, but don’t be surprised to see them surpass the $28-30 million mark, especially Tucker, who has brought consistency, confidence, and, at times, all of the offense, to the Ravens.

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Topics:
Baltimore Ravens
NFL

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