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What is the key to being a successful kicker?

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Baltimore Ravens announced Friday that they locked up kicker Justin Tucker to a four-year contract, worth almost 17 million dollars.

Many Ravens fans were quick to laud the move, while others on social media were quick to scoff at giving (what is perceived as) so much money to a specialist.

Looking at it practically, some of that cynicism can be understood.  After all, kickers rarely even step onto the field during NFL games, and when they do, their job involves no contact and is done very quickly.

But those Ravens fans who were ecstatic to hear that Tucker would be in town for at least another four years aren't worried about the numbers or the practicality that state that re-signing a kicker to big money isn't worth it.  Why?  Because they know that they can count on Tucker when it matters.

Outside of watching what physically happens during field goal attempts, it is hard to truly judge what makes a kicker one of the best in the league.  It's easy to see a guy that is continuously hitting 50 plus yard field goals, and declare him to be one at the top of his game.  But what about when that player begins to miss those long field goals, and by extension, the shorter ones don't come as easy for him either?

The answer is somewhat simple: It isn't that the kicker who had recent success just suddenly stopped being good.  What's more likely is that a long miss or two got into his head, and he begins to think more and more as he attempts his kicks.

Like a precious few other positions in sports, having success as an NFL kicker is as much about where a player is mentally as how skilled he is physically.  As such, when a kicker begins a particularly bad streak, his mental fortitude will determine whether or not he can bounce back from it.

It's a very similar position to a closing pitcher in baseball; how many times have we seen a reliable mop up guy begin to fall apart after a bad run?  Probably around the same amount of once promising kickers we've seen flameouts due to a bad miss in a big spot.

Despite his age, Billy Cundiff was still looked at as a suitable kicker following his infamous miss against New England in the 2011 AFC Championship game due to his being signed by several different teams.  But he never ended up catching on anywhere again, and part of that probably had to do with the fact that his miss against the Patriots was too hard to come back from.

Therein lies why Ravens fans are happy to have Justin Tucker back, regardless of the price tag.  He has shown time and time again that he is mentally unflappable and seems to play even better the bigger the stage.  Just look at the myriad of game-winning kicks in his young career, or the particularly big performances that he's had against teams such as Detroit and Pittsburgh.

Maybe one day down the road Tucker will succumb to the pressure of being a placekicker.  But there a few throughout the history of the league such as Adam Vinatieri and now Stephen Gostkowski who have shown no sign of doing such a thing, and with Tucker on the track that he's on now, there's now reason to believe that he can't join that historic class of elite kickers.