For the next several weeks I will be breaking down the Viking’s roster, evaluating the players and letting you know what to expect from each position.
By Jordan Wright
If you have any questions or comments feel free to write me at jwright3030@ gmail.com, follow me on Twitter @SkolJWright or find me on Facebook at Jordan Wright. All stats are courtesy of Pro Football Focus unless noted otherwise.
Preseason football is almost here! This will be my last positional breakdown, and I’ll be covering the special teams. Kicker Blair Walsh just signed a contract extension, making him one of the highest paid kickers in the NFL. Did he deserve the contract? Punter Jeff Locke is left unchallenged this offseason. Is that a good move? The Vikings did bring in a challenger to long time long snapper Cullen Loeffler. Was the move justified? Let’s dive in.
Blair Walsh has been the Viking’s kicker ever since he was selected in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL draft. Just recently, the Vikings signed him to a four year, 13 million extension, making him the fifth highest paid kicker in the league. Walsh made the Pro Bowl his rookie season and was also Pro Football Focus’ highest rated kicker that year. In Walsh’s second season, PFF rated him as the eighth best, which is obviously a drop but still in the top ten. Last year, Walsh was rated number 11, which is still decent but I’m noticing a trend here and it isn’t good. The Vikings have to be hoping that the move back indoors for the 2016 season will help Walsh regain his Pro Bowl form and justify the huge contract extension.
Jeff Locke was selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft. Since then, he has been ranked 40 (out of 41) and 37 (out of 37) according to PFF. Those numbers are concerning, and I’m not sure why the Vikings declined to bring in any competition for Locke this offseason. Punter might be one of those positions that most people don’t think about much, but a great punter can control the field position when the offense is having a bad day, and a bad punter can single handedly (or maybe single footedly) spell disaster for an NFL team. I’m hoping Locke can take a step forward this year, but if not look for the Vikings to upgrade next offseason.
Long snapper is a position that has been manned by Cullen Loeffler since he signed with the Vikings as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2004. While PFF doesn’t have grades for long snappers, it’s fair to say Cullen has performed admirably, considering the Vikings have undergone numerous coaching changes since he came into the league and Loeffler is still around. This year, however, the Vikings brought in Kevin McDermott to challenge Loeffler. McDermott was another undrafted rookie, who signed with the 49ers in 2013. The interesting thing to me is the Vikings signed McDermott to a two year contract, which tells me Loeffler’s time in Minnesota might be coming to an end.
What to watch this weekend
The Minnesota Vikings will take on the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Aug. 9 in the annual Hall of Fame game. This game will mark the first preseason game of the season. This game doesn’t count towards the Vikings four preseason games, so they really get five games to get the team prepared and the roster set. Coach Zimmer will take full advantage of the extra preseason game by trying out multiple combinations of players to find who plays well together. There are plenty of competitions going on throughout the Viking’s roster but the one I will be keeping an eye on is the offensive line, as I think that group has the potential to make or break the Viking’s season. The starters won’t be playing much in this game, but it will be a great way for the second stringers and rookies to show what they have in an actual game situation.
Have a wonderful weekend and remember, football is back! Next time you read this column, I’ll be able to report on an actual game. If there is anything you would like to see in my columns, or if you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter. I appreciate all the feedback I’ve gotten so far and I always welcome more!