If he were to walk away from the game and retire tomorrow, Baltimore Ravens legendary placekicker Justin Tucker would already have a strong case to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years from now. He’s already the leading scorer in franchise history and the most accurate kicker in NFL history with a field goal percentage of 90.65.
When asked by a fan during one of the team’s joint practices with the Carolina Panthers, a fan asked Tucker when is going to the Hall of Fame and he replied, “Hopefully in 20 years.” Entering his 10th season at nearly 32 years old, he believes that the best is yet to come and that he still has plenty of elite years ahead of him.
“I haven’t even hit my prime yet. We’re just getting started,” Tucker said.
“In all seriousness, it is a day-to-day thing. It’s not even day-to-day; it’s one kick to the next – just make the next kick. … I don’t really allow myself time to think about, ‘How long do I want to keep playing or what accolades may I be able to achieve?’ All that stuff will kind of take care of itself. I’m just enjoying the ride.”
Playing 20 years is a tall task for any NFL player, even a kicker who isn’t required to do nearly as much physically demanding work or play as many downs as most other positions, playing two decades at an elite level is something, not even his idol, Adam Vinatieri was able to do.
Vinatieri was Tucker’s inspiration growing up and their careers even overlapped for eight years before the future Hall of Famer retired last offseason. While his career lasted 24 years, Vinatieri’s last few years in the league weren’t nearly as successful or consistent as the bulk of it. Following the 2015 season when he produced a field goal percentage of 92.6, Vinatieri’s percentages began to decrease, never went above 90, and hit a career-low 68 percent in his final season.
Tucker is would be 42 by the end of his 20th season if decides to play that long which is completely within the realm of possibilities. His preparation process has remained the same throughout his career and isn’t changing anytime soon.
“As simply as I can put it, it’s see the ball, kick the ball, make kicks,” Tucker said. “It’s got to start there, and then fine-tuning the swing and the technique and the plant [and] keeping the main things the main things. For me, that’s replicating that same downfield swing, jumping off my plant foot, being solid with my studs in the ground, and then kicking the ball with a high level of consistency.”
The four-time All-Pro has had the honor and luxury of having the same long snapper and holder for the vast majority of his career. While veteran punter Sam Koch will still be his holder, the Wolfpack said goodbye to one of its founding members in the offseason when veteran long snapper Morgan Cox was released so that they could go with a younger and inexpensive option.
Replacing him in the specialist trio is third-year pro Nick Moore who learned under Cox while on the practice squad the past two seasons. Tucker believes that the former undrafted free agent out of Georgia has “done an excellent job” in preparing to permanently fill the shoes of his long-time friend and teammate.
“He’s worked every single day to get just a little bit better. He’s getting more and more consistent,” Tucker said. “His attitude has been great; his work ethic has been great. I can’t speak highly enough of his efforts thus far, and time will tell – for all of us – how well we can put it all together.”
While Tucker narrowly holds the title of the most accurate kicker of all time over Harrison Butker of the Kansas City Chiefs by .36 percent, he could lose it in time because he constantly pushes himself and lobbies his coaches to trot him out for longer low percentage attempts that often makes look easy, but can sometimes be just a hair off or short. The longest successful attempt came on a 61-yard game-winner over the Detroit Lions in 2013 during his second year in the league. He’s converted from further than that in both practice and pregame warmups before so expect him to continue to be bold when it comes to testing his limits going forward.