Ravens 2012 Awards: Rookie of the Year

Ravens 2012 Awards: Rookie of the Year
February 11, 2013, 9:45 am
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The Ravens' remarkable run is over, the parade route is finally cleared out, and the Lombardi Trophy is safely locked up at the Ravens' Under Armour Performance Center, with the players fingerprints all over it -- remember, they would not touch or even look at it before the Super Bowl on Ray Lewis' orders.

So with the Super Bowl hoopla finally subsiding, we are handing out our 2012 Ravens end-of-season awards.

Previously, we had the Coaching Move of the Year, the Offseason Signing of the Year, the Underrated Player of the Year , the Play of the Year and the Game of the Year.

Now, the Rookie of the Year:

Ravens rookies had a huge part in the team's run to the Super Bowl title. The 2012 draft class was a very good one, with guard Kelechi Osemele starting all 20 games -- the first 16 at right tackle and then all four playoff games at left guard. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw started slowly but showed the promised that made him the Ravens' top pick in the draft. Ditto for Bernard Pierce, who overcame training camp injuries to blossom into an outstanding No. 2 back. Every other member of the draft class, except for sixth-rounder Tommy Streeter (injured reserve) was on the team's opening 53-man roster.

But the top Ravens rookie this year was one they never even drafted: kicker Justin Tucker.

When Tucker was brought it to compete with Billy Cundiff for the Ravens' job, the early speculation was that the Ravens simply wanted someone to challenge Cundiff, who was coming off that disastrous miss in the AFC Championship Game but was well liked around the Castle and was the incumbent kicker.

But as Tucker nailed one long field goal after another in training camp, he became harder and harder to ignore. Then the Ravens made the bold, somewhat surprising decision to release Cundiff and stick with the rookie. It proved to be one of the best personnel decisions of the season.

Tucker was unflappable. The same long, strong leg he showed all through camp was there all season. He wasn't perfect -- after all, he plays in the AFC North, which has some of the league's worst venues for kickers -- but he made 30 of 33 kicks in the regular season and was 4-for-4 in the playoffs.

He showed the ability to make kicks from long-range and under pressure, two of the strikes agaainst Cundiff. Tucker went 4-for-4 from beyond 50 yards, including a 56-yarder at Philadelphia, tied for the longest in franchise history.

As for pressure, Tucker nailed a 47-yarder in the second overtime to win the AFC Divisional Round game at Denver, his third game-winner of the season. He also beat New England at the buzzer in the regular season, and hit a 38-yarder in overtime to beat San Diego -- this after making a 38-yarder on the final play of regulation to force overtime.

Tucker is quick to credit his fellow specialists, saying that the routine he, long snapper Morgan Cox and holder Sam Koch work on in practice translates to success on the field.

Time and again, Tucker validated the Ravens' early trust in him. When the move was made to keep Tucker over Cundiff, some openly wondered: Come playoff time, if need be, would the Ravens really put their season on the leg of a rookie kicker? They sure did, and that's one of the reasons they were hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in the Superdome.

" I think everyone can tell that (Tucker) has a lot of confidence and he kicks really well," defensive lineman Haloti Ngata said after the overtime win at Denver. "I think, with that, people just believe in him.”

Up next: Defensive Player of the Year