Talking about Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris Boswell’s greatness tends to come with a caveat, and a pretty big one. In spite of the fact that his numbers show him to be one of the greatest kickers in the history of the game, he will never be regarded as the best of his era for the simple fact that he is playing concurrently with the greatest of all-time.
And you would already know where I’m going with this even if you didn’t read the title. We’re talking about Justin Tucker of the Baltimore Ravens and how he has transformed what it is to be an NFL kicker. Although he is not the first big-legged kicker in NFL history, he is certainly the best, and, with a caveat, the most accurate.
With his one and only field goal attempt in yesterday’s game for the Ravens late in the third quarter, Justin Tucker became just the fourth player in NFL history to connect on 50 field goals of 50 yards or more, this one connecting from a distance of 56, which has become standard procedure for him.
Generally, the others in that club have taken far more shots to do it. Jason Hanson retired with 52 career made field goals of 50 yards or more, but on 93 attempts, with an accuracy of 55.9 percent. The first big-legged kicker by reputation was Sebastian Janikowksi, who retired with 58 makes, but on 105 attempts, from 50-plus yards.
The current kick of the 50-yard field goal, however, is Matt Prater, who has made 66 of them, and has done so only on 89 attempts, with a slightly better overall field goal percentage than Tucker’s, at 74.2 percent to 73.5 percent.
But part of that is because Prater isn’t asked to attempt extremely long field goals as frequently as Tucker. From 50-59 yards out, Tucker has the highest average out of anybody in NFL history with at least 20 makes at 77 percent. But Boswell could best him on his next 50-plus yarder if he connects, because he’s sitting at 19 right now on 24 attempts and an average of 79.2. Younghoe Koo currently has 15 connections on only 16 attempts, however, good for 93.8 percent.
But we can’t ignore the simple fact that Tucker is not only about as good as you can possible ask for from distance, he’s also just as good as you can ask for generally. He has the highest field goal percentage in NFL history, hitting longevity marks previously unheard of. A decade into his career, he has connected on over 91 percent of his field goals. It’s just genuinely astonishing.
And those kickers who have come into the league after him have tried to emulate him—as have teams in trying to use their kickers similarly. The proliferation of 50-yard field goal attempts has skyrocketed—and as with Koo, some are proving able.
As for Prater, he’s still going, now 38 years old and in his 18th season, but does anybody doubt that Tucker will surpass anybody’s numbers that he hasn’t already by the time he hangs it up? He’s 32 now, in his 11th season, and there’s no reason at this point to think that he can’t kick into his mid-40s. Maybe he’ll lose a bit of range during that time, but he’ll probably be the first, any perhaps only, player ever to make 600 field goals, a mark Adam Vinatieri retired just one shy of.
Nobody active is even close. Robbie Gould has 423, but he is near the end of his career. Mason Crosby has 372 since 2007. Prater, also having entered the league in 2007, has only 351. Tucker is the next active member on the list at 328. He came into this season averaging 32.5 field goals per season. If he keeps up that pace, he should hit 600 at age 41 in 2033.