Ravens make Justin Tucker the highest-paid kicker in NFL

The Baltimore Ravens announced a four-year contract extension with kicker Justin Tucker.

The Baltimore Ravens took care of a little business on Monday, announcing a four-year contract extension with kicker Justin Tucker.

Widely regarded as perhaps the best kicker in the league, Tucker has been a rock for Baltimore since his rookie season back in 2012. He is coming off perhaps his best season as a professional, as his field goal percentage of 94.6% last season was his career-best.

Tucker also set an NFL record with a 66-yard field goal to beat the Detroit Lions on the final play last season:

The team announced the extension on social media:

As noted, the deal will likely make Tucker the highest-paid kicker in the game. And with the terms of the deal announced, Tucker is indeed the highest-paid kicker in the league:

The Ravens — and their fans — probably believe he will be worth every penny.

Ravens rookie Tyler Linderbaum dealing with Lisfranc injury

Baltimore Ravens rookie center Tyler Linderbaum is dealing with a recurrence of a Lisfranc injury suffered in his last game at Iowa.

Baltimore Ravens rookie center Tyler Linderbaum is dealing with a Lisfranc injury, that could see him sidelined for a few weeks.

Linderbaum first hurt his foot during his final game at Iowa, as the Hawkeyes took on the Kentucky Wildcats in the Citrus Bowl. He suffered the injury in the fourth quarter and was held out of a critical fourth-down attempt for the Iowa offense, but managed to return for their final drive of the game:

“That’s probably the worst part about it, I wasn’t out there for those three most important snaps … in the game,” Linderbaum said. “And that’s the game of football. Injuries happen. Luckily, it wasn’t as severe.”

Amazingly, Linderbaum did come back and play through the pain — a Lisfranc injury can linger for months or longer, depending on the severity — for Iowa’s last-gasp attempt in the final minute that failed. Even as certain NFL millions were waiting for him, Linderbaum was determined to give everything he had in his final moments as a Hawkeye.

The injury has been described as a “recurrence,” and a “sprain,” as opposed to a “rupture:”

Baltimore drafted Linderbaum, largely considered the best center of the 2022 draft class, in the first round last April.

One stat that matters for every NFL team

Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar brings forth one stat that matters for every NFL team coming into the 2022 season.

When you ask NFL coaches, executives, and scouts about analytics, you’ll get all kinds of answers which tend to reveal which teams value them — and which teams are paying lip service, because they don’t really consider advanced metrics, but they don’t want to be pilloried on social media as dinosaurs.

The teams that don’t value analytics, or don’t want you to know that they do, will tend to give more generic answers. Teams that are all in will be more specific.

Whether you believe that analytics can help your player evaluation process or not, the simple fact is that they represent a tool that can be helpful in the right hands. In the wrong hands, it’s just statistical noise.

We’re not sure if my hands are the right ones or not, but in this article, I have endeavored to find one specific metric for each NFL team that reveals a larger strength or weakness each team will either benefit from, or must address, in the 2022 season.

So, get your tape-repaired glasses, dust off your pocket protectors, and let’s nerd out with one stat that matters for every NFL team!

(All advanced metrics courtesy of Sports Info SolutionsPro Football Focus, and Football Outsiders unless otherwise indicated).

2023 NFL Mock draft: How the first round might go after Miami’s forfeited pick

Mock draft alert! Now that the NFL has taken one of the Dolphins’ two first-round picks in 2023, here’s how the first round might look.

While we’re pretty sure that the rest of the NFL isn’t too happy about the Miami Dolphins barfing all over themselves as a franchise with the embarrassment of an unprecedented tampering scandal, there is the matter of the 2023 first-round pick the Dolphins were forced by the league to forfeit as punishment. That was estimated as the 15th overall pick at this time, and that means that a whole lot of teams get a one-pick bump in the 2023 NFL draft.

The Dolphins still have a first-round pick next year courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers in the trade that allowed Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch to move up and select Trey Lance with the third overall pick in 2021. But Miami obviously has much less leverage to move up next year if the idea was to nab one of the star quarterbacks in the 2023 class, should things not work out with Tua Tagovailoa. Right now, that has the Dolphins sitting with the 23rd pick, and by that time, the highest-profile quarterbacks will obviously be out the door.

How might the 2023 NFL draft look with 31 picks instead of 32, and more than half the first round moving up? Here’s one person’s estimate.

Lamar Jackson on anonymous criticism: “He’s anonymous for a reason”

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson addressed the media, and criticism of his game, as training camp began for the Ravens.

With football back, many are hoping that the storylines of the summer dead period will recede from view. One of those storylines? The ongoing debate over Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, and where he stands among his peers. In this year’s version of quarterback tiers put together by Mike Sando of The Athletic, an anonymous defensive coordinator stated that even if Jackson won 12 MVP awards, he would not view him as the top quarterback in the game.

Meeting the media on Thursday Jackson fired back: “It’s anonymous, so I don’t really care. He’s anonymous for a reason:”

Jackson also addressed the ongoing negotiations between the quarterback and the Ravens regarding a long-term extension. Jackson indicated that whenever he has a free moment, he is talking with general manager Eric DeCosta, and also noted that rather than “hold in” as other players in similar situations are doing, he wants to practice with his “brothers:”

Head coach John Harbaugh also addressed the negotiations on Thursday, stating that both sides are working to get a deal done:

As for Jackson’s play on the field, our own Doug Farrar dove into his film recently, and found a few areas where Jackson could take a step forward, perhaps silencing his critics along the way.

How Lamar Jackson can perfect his game… and silence the skeptics

Lamar Jackson may or may not be a Top 10 quarterback. If he is to eliminate the questions, he’ll have to take care of business on the field.

It’s a day ending in “Y,” and a year ending in a number, so there’s somebody in the NFL more than willing to tell you: Lamar Jackson ain’t all that. Even after his MVP season of 2019, and even as he dramatically improved his pure quarterbacking from the pocket, the guys all the way back from when Bill Polian was telling us that Jackson should become a receiver were happy to spout off with their own perceptions of Jackson’s game. Something Polian later had to recant, by the way.

There is a schism between Jackson the athlete and Jackson the quarterback in the minds of many who make their money in the NFL. There’s some legitimacy to that after Jackson’s 2021 season, when regression reared its ugly head.

When Mike Sando of The Athletic put together his annual Quarterback Tiers piece, speaking with 50 NFL coaches and executives, that schism was out in full force.

“You cannot go into a game and not account for this guy — like, we are meeting with people every offseason to find out how they would defend this type of offense,” one defensive coordinator told Sando. “At the same time, I can totally see why you can go anywhere from 1 to 3 on him. If he has to drop back and throw the ball, it is not the same, but if he is on rhythm and they are running the ball and they are running the play-action off it, if you can’t account for that dude, he is going to kill you.”

More common were the slings and arrows regarding Jackson as a quarterback.

“If he has to pass to win the game, they ain’t winning the game,” another defensive coordinator said. “He’s so unique as an athlete and he’s really a good football player, but I don’t [care] if he wins the league MVP 12 times, I don’t think he’ll ever be a 1 as a quarterback. He’ll be a 1 as a football player, but not as a quarterback. So many games come down to two-minute, and that is why they have a hard time advancing even when they are good on defense. Playoffs are tight. You have to be able to throw the ball, and he is just so inconsistent throwing the ball. It is hit or miss.”

Well There’s cogent analysis of the player, and there’s stuff like “I don’t [care] if he wins the league MVP 12 times,” which seems a bit more personal — as if this particular coach came into the picture with a specific idea of what Jackson is and isn’t, and he’s not going to change that for anything.

One offensive coach had a more balanced interpretation, though there are layers to the truth here.

“I think what we saw with Lamar, starting with the Miami game and carrying through the rest of the season, was someone who struggled to identify coverages and make pre-snap reads. He is still a really dynamic player, brings something different to the group, but by and large, is going to have to continue to improve as a passer in order go deep in the playoffs and put himself in the Tier 1 group.”

The Week 10 game against the Dolphins is a good place to start for our discussion purposes. Did Jackson struggle to comprehend what he was seeing against Brian Flores’ defense? Absolutely. But the Dolphins also gave Jackson some thing he had not seen — and no other NFL quarterback has seen in recent years.

How the Dolphins upended the Ravens with Cover-0 (and other things)

Jackson finished that game with 26 completions on 43 attempts for 238 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and a passer rating of 73.8. He was sacked four times, and was pressured on 19 of his 53 dropbacks. When under pressure, per Pro Football Focus, Jackson completed five of 13 passes for 50 yards, one touchdown, one late desperation interception (the first regular-season pick he’s thrown in the red zone in his career), and a passer rating of 45.4. Through the first nine weeks of the season, Jackson had completed 36 of 75 passes under pressure for 517 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 77.5, so it wasn’t just pressuring Lamar. There were other things afoot.

How different was the game plan put together by Miami defensive coordinator Josh Boyer? Per Next Gen Stats, safeties Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones were all over the field, and they blitzed at a rate Next Gen Stats had never seen before.

So… when we say that Lamar Jackson is or is not this or that, maybe we need to see the situational context.

The 30,000-foot view tells us that Jackson has some things to work on. Certainly before he can be in anybody’s first tier as a pure thrower of the football as opposed to an unprecedented athletic threat, which he has already been for a while.

Back to the alleged disrespect…

Jackson also didn’t make ESPN’s recent list of the NFL’s top 10 quarterbacks — a list complied by Jeremy Fowler, who also spoke with a range of coaches and executives.

“Hard to stay healthy when you run that much; he’s actually gotten a lot better as a passer,” an offensive coach told Fowler. “But if you play that way [with a run-heavy attack] and it’s a close game and you’re down, it’s really hard to win, because you’re asked to do what you only minor in, not major in, and that’s passing the ball when they know you are gonna pass it.”

Full disclosure: Jackson ranked ninth on our own Mark Schofield’s recent list of the NFL’s 12 best quarterbacks. Mark pointed out in his analysis that early in the 2021 season, Jackson was punishing defenses as a pocket passer, and as a runner in designed and second-reaction concepts.

The NFL’s top 12 quarterbacks

Jackson and the rest of the Ravens team dealt with a nasty streak of injuries last season, especially down the stretch. That has something to do with  the regression that did show up both in the metrics and on tape.

So now, with Jackson coming into his fifth NFL season, and looking for the kind of ginormous contract extension given to the league’s elite (and at times, not-so-elite) quarterbacks, there is the question: How can Jackson not only silence the doubters, but also make that extension a fait accompli –– the kind of thing a franchise simply can’t afford to refuse?

We have a few thoughts on how Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, can become just such a force on a more consistent basis.

(All advanced metrics courtesy of Sports Info SolutionsPro Football Focus, and Football Outsiders unless otherwise indicated).

The 101 best players in the NFL today, Nos. 50-1

Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar and Mark Schofield conclude their player lists with the 50 best players in the NFL today.

Midsummer of every year is when we all make lists in this business. We’re not quite at the point of training camps in full bloom, free agency and the draft has eased off from a newsworthiness angle, and there’s still a need for clickable content. Ergo, we’re all ranking the NFL’s players in all possible ways.

Here’s how we’ve done it at Touchdown Wire over the last few seasons. Doug Farrar and Mark Schofield begin by ranking as many players as possible at as many positions at possible. This year, we ranked players at quarterback, running back, slot receiver, outside receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, offensive guard, center, interior defensive line, edge defender, linebacker, slot defender, outside cornerback, and safety.

We’ll get to long snappers next year, we promise.

The NFL’s top 13 safeties

The NFL’s top 12 slot defenders

The NFL’s top 12 outside cornerbacks

The NFL’s top 11 linebackers

The NFL’s top 11 edge defenders

The NFL’s top 12 interior defensive linemen

The NFL’s top 12 centers

The NFL’s top 11 offensive guards

The NFL’s top 11 offensive tackles

The NFL’s top 12 tight ends

The NFL’s top 11 slot receivers

The NFLs top 16 wide receivers

The NFL’s top 11 running backs

The NFL’s top 12 quarterbacks

What this allows us to do when it’s time to rank the NFL’s best players in a year, regardless of position, is to avoid overloading our list with certain positions. Because we’re limited to 12 quarterbacks (or however many Mark decides to list in a given year), we can’t throw 20 quarterbacks in the 101 at the expense of other positions.

All 12 of Mark’s quarterbacks made the top 101 list, because quarterback is the most important position, but we’re not going to throw Jimmy Garoppolo or Jared Goff in here just because. We also have 12 outside receivers, 11 outside cornerbacks, nine safeties, eight edge rushers, eight interior defensive linemen, seven linebackers, seven offensive guards, seven offensive tackles, seven running backs, six tight ends, three centers, three specific slot defenders, and one specific slot receiver. 

Perhaps that tells you which positions we think are most important in the NFL today, if nothing else. 

The methodology for this list (and all our positional lists) was this: We took what we remembered from the 2021 season and what we accentuated with offseason tape study. Then, we pored over the advanced metrics at Sports Info Solutions, Pro Football Focus, and Football Outsiders. From there, we put together our positional lists based on additional tape study, just to make sure the numbers, and our memories, aligned with what the tape told us over the summer.

Sometimes, it did, Other times, not so much. 

There are also all kinds of new players on this Top 101 list that weren’t here last year – a massive influx of young players who are seeing the light come on. Occasionally, that happens in a player’s rookie season. More often, it’s a multi-year process for a player to reach the elite at the highest possible level of football. Either way, it bodes well for the future.

As for the guy up top… well, we’ve seen him quite a bit before.

To avoid your phone blowing up when you’re trying to read this, we’ve split the Top 101 into two parts: From yesterday, our list of the players we ranked from 101 to 51, all their important metrics, and the most compelling tape examples we could find to prove their excellence. 

And now, without further ado, here are Touchdown Wire’s 50 best players in the NFL today. 

(All advanced metrics courtesy of Sports Info SolutionsPro Football Focus, and Football Outsiders unless otherwise indicated).

The 101 best players in the NFL today, Nos. 101-51

Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar and Mark Schofield list the 101 best players in the NFL today.

Midsummer of every year is when we all make lists in this business. We’re not quite at the point of training camps in full bloom, free agency and the draft has eased off from a newsworthiness angle, and there’s still a need for clickable content. Ergo, we’re all ranking the NFL’s players in all possible ways.

Here’s how we’ve done it at Touchdown Wire over the last few seasons. Doug Farrar and Mark Schofield begin by ranking as many players as possible at as many positions at possible. This year, we ranked players at quarterback, running back, slot receiver, outside receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, offensive guard, center, interior defensive line, edge defender, linebacker, slot defender, outside cornerback, and safety.

We’ll get to long snappers next year, we promise.

The NFL’s top 13 safeties

The NFL’s top 12 slot defenders

The NFL’s top 12 outside cornerbacks

The NFL’s top 11 linebackers

The NFL’s top 11 edge defenders

The NFL’s top 12 interior defensive linemen

The NFL’s top 12 centers

The NFL’s top 11 offensive guards

The NFL’s top 11 offensive tackles

The NFL’s top 12 tight ends

The NFL’s top 11 slot receivers

The NFLs top 16 wide receivers

The NFL’s top 11 running backs

The NFL’s top 12 quarterbacks

What this allows us to do when it’s time to rank the NFL’s best players in a year, regardless of position, is to avoid overloading our list with certain positions. Because we’re limited to 12 quarterbacks (or however many Mark decides to list in a given year), we can’t throw 20 quarterbacks in the 101 at the expense of other positions.

All 12 of Mark’s quarterbacks made the top 101 list, because quarterback is the most important position, but we’re not going to throw Jimmy Garoppolo or Jared Goff in here just because. We also have 12 outside receivers, 11 outside cornerbacks, nine safeties, eight edge rushers, eight interior defensive linemen, seven linebackers, seven offensive guards, seven offensive tackles, seven running backs, six tight ends, three centers, three specific slot defenders, and one specific slot receiver. 

Perhaps that tells you which positions we think are most important in the NFL today, if nothing else. 

The methodology for this list (and all our positional lists) was this: We took what we remembered from the 2021 season and what we accentuated with offseason tape study. Then, we pored over the advanced metrics at Sports Info Solutions, Pro Football Focus, and Football Outsiders. From there, we put together our positional lists based on additional tape study, just to make sure the numbers, and our memories, aligned with what the tape told us over the summer.

Sometimes, it did, Other times, not so much. 

There are also all kinds of new players on this Top 101 list that weren’t here last year – a massive influx of young players who are seeing the light come on. Occasionally, that happens in a player’s rookie season. More often, it’s a multi-year process for a player to reach the elite at the highest possible level of football. Either way, it bodes well for the future.

As for the guy up top… well, we’ve seen him quite a bit before. But to avoid your phone blowing up when you’re trying to read this, we’ve split the Top 101 into two parts: Here are the players we ranked from 101 to 51, all their important metrics, and the most compelling tape examples we could find to prove their excellence. We’ll put up our top 50 players tomorrow.

So here, without further ado and in two parts, are Touchdown Wire’s 101 best players in the NFL today. 

(All advanced metrics courtesy of Sports Info SolutionsPro Football Focus, and Football Outsiders unless otherwise indicated).

The NFL’s top 11 slot receivers

Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar continues our position lists with the NFL’s 11 best slot receivers.

In the 2021 season, per Sports Info Solutions, NFL teams targeted their slot receivers on 39.7% of all passing attempts (7,496 of 18,881). 43.1% of all  catches (5,481 of 12,731) came from the slot, as well as 35.6% of all receiving yards (49.737 of 139,619), 51.7% of all yards after the catch (35,567 of 68,802), 49.7% of all yards after contact (12,025 of 24,176), and 36% of all passing touchdowns (320 of 889).

The point? Slot receivers are more important than they’ve ever been before. As the NFL moves to more and more 3×1 formations, offenses don’t just rely on one slot receiver — there are now multiple slot weapons per team, serving different roles. Whether those slot targets are smaller receivers, bigger receivers, running backs, or tight ends, if you’re not attacking opposing defenses (which are trending far more to nickel and dime sets to counter all this), you’re not doing the most you can do as a play-designer.

If the first thing you thought after reading this was, “I bet the Seahawks don’t do enough to attack opposing defenses in the slot,” you would be correct. Seattle had the NFL’s fewest slot targets by far in the 2021 season, with 164. The Vikings, 49ers, Bills, and Saints rounded out the bottom five.

As for the top five, the Buccaneers ranked first in slot targets with 347, followed by the Chiefs, Raiders, Falcons, and Dolphins. As we’re about to discuss, the Dolphins appear to be in place to set an all-time record for slot targets heading into the 2022 season.

The top five receivers in slot targets last season were about as different as you could imagine. From top-tier receivers with both volume and production (Cooper Kupp), to high-volume receivers with limited production (Cole Beasley), to amazing tight ends (Mark Andrews) to uber-fast YAC monsters who create undefendable formations with their presence (Tyreek Hill) to underrated slot technicians (Tyler Boyd), there isn’t one type of slot weapon. It takes all kinds, in all kinds of offenses, to lay waste to coverage with slot concepts.

Here are Touchdown Wire’s 11 best slot receivers, regardless of position, and all our other position lists to date, which will lead up to Touchdown Wire’s top 101 players in the NFL today.

The NFL’s top 13 safeties

The NFL’s top 12 slot defenders

The NFL’s top 12 outside cornerbacks

The NFL’s top 11 linebackers

The NFL’s top 11 edge defenders

The NFL’s top 12 interior defensive linemen

The NFL’s top 12 centers

The NFL’s top 11 offensive guards

The NFL’s top 12 offensive tackles

The NFL’s top 12 tight ends

The NFL’s top 12 tight ends

Touchdown Wire’s Mark Schofield continues our position lists with the NFL’s 12 best tight ends.

Tight ends are asked to do so much in today’s NFL. They are asked to stress defenses in the secondary, particularly as the league looks to shift to more split-safety coverages, keeping both safeties deep to protect against the pass and daring offenses to run the football.

Many are also asked to take on the role of an extra offensive lineman, and to handle a variety of blocking assignments in the running game.

That combination of skills often makes for a tough adjustment to the league, but in this year’s version of this list, we see a pair of rookies debut as top talents at the tight end position.

Of course, there are some familiar names at the top, and as we will see in a moment, if you were to rank the top players in almost any order, you would have a strong case for doing so.

Here are the NFL’s top 12 tight ends, and all our other position lists to date, which will lead up to Touchdown Wire’s top 101 players in the NFL today.

The NFL’s top 13 safeties

The NFL’s top 12 slot defenders

The NFL’s top 12 outside cornerbacks

The NFL’s top 11 linebackers

The NFL’s top 11 edge defenders

The NFL’s top 12 interior defensive linemen

The NFL’s top 12 centers

The NFL’s top 11 offensive guards

The NFL’s top 12 offensive tackles