Baltimore Ravens: Is Justin Tucker Winning the Kicker Battle?
Fifteen seconds, 32 yards and one unused timeout. Those were the numbers, and they totaled one Super Bowl berth gifted to Bill Belichick.
In what some considered a season of “destiny,” the Ravens were reminded that fate can sometimes be cruel and unforgiving.
As a potentially easy scapegoat to be slaughtered, Billy Cundiff must have been apprehensive. But Baltimore went about business in their traditional level-headed way. They stuck up for Cundiff when many were clamoring for his head, and with proven kickers like Shayne Graham and Neil Rackers on the market the Ravens instead signed an undrafted free agent named Justin Tucker.
The Texas product wasn’t supposed to be a threat to Cundiff’s job, merely motivation. The last time an extra training camp kicker was brought in, Cundiff had a Pro Bowl year.
Early on, the plan seemed to be working. Neither kicker had missed after one week of camp and Cundiff was having the best camp of his career. It was his job to lose, and with eight years of NFL experience in his corner, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would prove his worth and distinguish himself in a decisive fashion.
Fast-forward to now and that’s not what it looks like.
After Wednesday’s practice, Tucker has drilled 88 of 93 field goals over training camp. Cundiff, with three misses on Wednesday, has connected on 74 of 92 attempts.
Granted, his Wednesday misses were from 52, 56 and 58 yards respectively, but he also missed from 28 and 38 yards on back-to-back kicks earlier in camp. Tucker’s only really bad kick of the camp was one that unfortunately hit Joe Flacco’s wife. She shrugged it off and it hit her after splitting the uprights anyway.
While Cundiff was missing from 52 and 56 yards, Tucker was knocking kicks down from those same distances. Tucker has consistently shown off his better range, with the coaches “often backing him up beyond Cundiff’s range.”
The prime example of his huge leg was the 63-yarder he nailed in front of 20,324 boisterous fans at an open stadium practice.
Obviously, kicking in an NFL game is very different to kicking in practice, but just to get an idea of where the two stand, here’s how their current percentages would have fared last season in the NFL.
Cundiff, at 80.4 percent, is kicking five percentage points higher than he was last season, when he ranked 28th by percentage. His improved numbers would have been good for 20th, while Tucker’s 94.6 percent would have led the league.
I’m not suggesting that the Ravens have the best kicker in the NFL on their roster as an undrafted rookie. But throughout camp when faced with a question about any position on the field, the Ravens coaching staff has been consistent in replying that the best player will play.
Well, the best Ravens kicker this offseason has been Justin Tucker.
At 22 years old, with a huge leg and with blistering (so far) accuracy, Tucker seems to have the potential to be a great kicker in this league. Discounting the AFC Championship miss, Cundiff is 32 years old and has never shown the ability to kick long field goals (he is 26 percent on field goals over 50 yards for his career).
While that missed 32-yard field goal was Cundiff’s only miss of the fourth quarter last season, Tucker has also shown the poise necessary to knock down kicks with the game on the line.
Coach Harbaugh has said that more weight will be given to preseason kicks, and through two games both kickers are perfect. Keep an eye on how the two perform over the next few weeks, but barring any shocking misses from Tucker, he will have been the best kicker to don a Ravens jersey this summer.
I hope he gets to wear that same jersey for years to come.
The Ravens now have something they didn’t anticipate: a tough decision. This battle will likely go down to the wire—just don’t be surprised if Tucker is the one that makes the final cut on August 31st.
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