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Ravens kicker Justin Tucker excels in rookie year

Ravens kicker Justin Tucker excels in rookie year

NEW ORLEANS (AP) No one selected Justin Tucker in the 2012 NFL draft, so he had to wait until late May before the Baltimore Ravens extended an invitation to the former Texas kicker to join them at training camp.

Tucker then had to beat out veteran Billy Cundiff, who scored 122 points one season earlier.

Although Cundiff missed a short field-goal try in the 2011 AFC championship game, he was the odds-on favorite to retain his job. As the saying goes, there's no substitute for experience.

Evidently not.

Tucker beat out Cundiff in a competition that lasted deep into the summer, and now the rookie will be kicking in the Super Bowl for Baltimore on Sunday night against the San Francisco 49ers.

Who'd have thought it?

``I definitely did,'' Tucker said. ``In this whole season, dating back to last year when I was just out of school, it's been kind of a whirlwind. But it's nothing we can't handle. I've never really thought like a rookie because I can't afford to at my position.''

Tucker was one of the three rookie kickers in the NFL this season. Blair Walsh of the Minnesota Vikings and Greg Zuerlein of St. Louis were both drafted in the sixth round.

And here's Tucker, in the Super Bowl.

``(Special teams coach) Jerry Rosburg did a great job of finding Justin Tucker,'' Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ``He wasn't a highly ranked kicker. He wasn't one of the top guys coming out on all the pre-rankings and those kind of things. Jerry did a tremendous job of evaluating Justin. He saw talent; he saw a gifted guy, went down there and worked him out, loved his personality. He felt like with a few adjustments technique-wise he could become really consistent.''

It didn't take long for Harbaugh to realize Tucker had the potential to excel.

``The first time I liked him was the very first kick,'' Harbaugh said. ``Standing behind him, hearing the ball come off his foot, and seeing how straight it tracked, you could tell that he's just a really talented guy. When we finally decided to make him the kicker, it was really right at the end. Billy Cundiff and he had a really great battle. Both those guys kicked incredibly well. We just felt like at the end, kind of a gut decision, that Tuck would be our guy.''

Tucker went 30 for 33 on field-goal tries during the regular season, including four of 50 yards or longer - a franchise record. He kicked three game-winning field goals, including a 47-yarder in the second overtime at Denver to thrust the Ravens into the AFC title game.

Now he's in the biggest game of his life, and showing not the least bit of concern. Heck, if he can put it through the uprights with the game on the line in chilly Denver, then kicking in the Superdome should be a snap.

``The Superdome is unique in and of itself,'' Tucker said. ``We had a chance to go kick a little bit. It's nice to more or less take the elements out of the game and just focus on hitting a straight ball.''

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Fantasy Football Rookie RB rankings: Who is the next Ezekiel Elliot?

Fantasy Football Rookie RB rankings: Who is the next Ezekiel Elliot?

With the bulk of football in the books until training camps open in July, projection season is upon us.

In this space, we’re looking ahead to Fantasy Football.

Rather than start with the obvious headliners like Aaron Rodgers, Ezekiel Elliott, Julio Jones and Rob Gronkowski, let’s dive into the new guys.

2017 FANTASY FOOTBALL: TOP 10 ROOKIE RUNNING BACKS

Along with Elliott, Dak Prescott, Sterling Shepard and Michael Thomas were among the rookies who produced and then some in 2016. Based on the early rounds of the 2017 draft, there’s hope for even more
first-year standouts.

Starting with the Bears selecting quarterback Mitch Trubisky second overall, 19 skill players were drafted in the first and second round.

That includes former LSU star Leonard Fournette, who headlines the running back class.

Here’s my look at the top 10 rookie runners with the 2017 fantasy football season in mind.

CHECK OUT THE TOP 10 ROOKIE RUNNING BACKS OF 2017 HERE

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Ex-Ravens receiver Michael Jackson dies in motorcycle accident in Louisiana

Ex-Ravens receiver Michael Jackson dies in motorcycle accident in Louisiana

Michael Jackson, a former NFL wide receiver who played eight seasons for the Browns and Ravens, died Friday after crashing his motorcyle into a car on a Louisiana highway. He was 48.

State police confirmed to TMZ Sports that Jackson was driving his motorcyle at "a high rate of speed" at about 1 a.m. Friday when he collided with the vehicle, which was reversing out of a parking lot and onto the road. The car's driver, a 20-year-old woman, also died in the accident.

Jackson's best season came in 1996 with the Ravens, a year in which he led the NFL in receiving touchdowns.

From 2009 to 2013, Jackson was the mayor of Village of Tangipahoa, which is located in Louisiana.

Former Raven Brad Jackson had this to say upon hearing the tragic news:

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