RB Matt Asiata, S Andrew Sendejo and CB Marcus Sherels all joined the Vikings as undrafted free agents. Which player has made the biggest impact for Minnesota during his career?
Adam P: Marcus Sherels
Although he did spend some time early in his Vikings career playing on the defensive side of the ball, returning punts has really been the area where Sherels has made the biggest impact for the Vikings. For the past three seasons (including 2015), he has ranked in the NFL’s top 10 in terms of average yards per punt and seems to always provide a spark for the Vikings when they need it the most. His punt return for a touchdown this season against the Chicago Bears in Week 8 was a big reason Minnesota was able to defeat the Bears in Chicago for the first time since 2007.
Matt Asiata and Andrew Sendejo have not been on the field as much during their careers for the Vikings as Sherels has in his; therefore, they have not been able to make as much of an impact as their teammate Sherels.
Asiata did a good job filling in for Adrian Peterson last season when he scored 10 touchdowns in 15 games. Sendejo is doing a decent job in the safety spot next to Harrison Smith in the Minnesota defense this season. But neither has come close to the impact that Sherels has made on this franchise as a punt returner.
Carl: Marcus Sherels
Matt Asiata and Andrew Sendejo have the NFL frame and the more advanced NCAA stats resume, but Marcus Sherels, the former walk-on at the University of Minnesota, has made a bigger impact with the Vikings flashing success as a playmaking return specialist.
As a 5’9”, 175-pound undrafted rookie with only 213 career NCAA punt return yards and 79 solo tackles entering the NFL, Sherels’ odds were stacked against him. As a rookie in 2010, he was once cut from the practice squad in favor of TE John Nalbone. However, season-ending injuries to Cedric Griffin and Madieu Williams found the Vikings in need of re-signing Sherels and eventually elevating him to the 53-man roster by the end of year.
Sherels’ hard work and persistence from his rookie season has paid off as he now owns four franchise records: longest punt return (86 yards, 2013), single season punt return average (15.2, 2013), most punt return touchdowns in a career (3), and most punt return yards in a game (119, Oct 21, 2013).
Brett: Matt Asiata
It’s a pretty close race between Matt Asiata and Marcus Sherels for me. To be honest, I don’t think Andrew Sendejo is even in the conversation. That’s not to slight him in anyway, he just hasn’t made nearly the same contribution as Asiata and Sherels. (I guess one could even go so far as to say he’s hurt more on defense than he’s helped?)
Anyway, I have to go with Matt Asiata here. He isn’t flashy or an incredible athlete. He’s not going to blow you away with his speed or wow you with amazing jump cuts. But he’s always been there for the team when they need an important first down or an even more important touchdown in goal line situations. With Adrian Peterson out during the 2014 season, Asiata filled in admirably. He is arguably the Vikings best pass catching and pass defending running back, as evidenced by his frequent use on third and long situations.
Let’s not forget what is maybe Asiata’s most incredible contribution to the Vikings: his three games with three touchdowns each in 2014! Asiata quickly became known for only being able to score touchdowns in increments of three. (He had nine total in the 2014 season.)
Adam: Marcus Sherels
I think the answer on this one is clear. Andrew Sendejo and Matt Asiata have impressive careers as undrafted players, but Marcus Sherels is the only one of the group that is among the NFL’s best at performing his respective duties. Sherels is one of the most consistent punt return specialists in the NFL and keeps earning that roster spot while also being an under-rated (yeah, I’m saying it) option as a backup cornerback. Sendejo and Asiata have earned some respect when called upon as starters, but Sherels continues to fend off the competition despite quality competition making their way to Mankato every year. Even the explosiveness of Stefon Diggs hasn’t been able to take return duties away from Sherels and, of the three, he will be the hardest to replace down the road.
Austin: Matt Asiata
Without Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings wouldn’t be 8-3. It showed last year, when they finished the season at 7-9. While the running game stayed consistent (11th-best by year’s end), the offense missed Peterson’s big play ability. However, much of that consistency came from Matt Asiata, who continues to prove his value to Minnesota. He started nine games in 2014 and finished the year with nine touchdowns on the ground and another through the air. In 2013, he rushed for three touchdowns on three different occasions and made himself known as a goal line weapon. Although he’s taken a step back this year, Asiata’s still finding a way to contribute. He often comes in on third down and becomes a viable option for Teddy Bridgewater out of the backfield. And unlike Petetson, Asiata’s an adequate pass blocker who can be relied on to protect Bridgewater in the pocket. He doesn’t make as many highlight plays as Sherels and doesn’t play as often as Sendejo, but Asiata is a proven commodity who has helped this team win before.
Lindsey: Matt Asiata
I know the most common answer here will be Marcus Sherels, and it’s hard to argue against that. I also know people will expect me to answer Sherels, so I’m going to switch it up and make a case for Asiata. The running back displays nothing but a positive attitude and tenacity; after all, he went through the undrafted –> signed –> released –> signed to the practice squad –> released –> re-signed cycle to be where he is today. Of course, the 2014 season set Asiata apart, as he stepped up to fill the main RB role while Adrian Peterson was out. Asiata proved up to the challenge, finishing the season with a trio of three-touchdown games. Even with Peterson returning to the field and Asiata returning to a backup this year, he is the best pass blocking RB on the team and has still established a role for himself as a third-down option and occasional target for Bridgewater. While Sherels has probably had a more wide-reaching impact overall, Asiata’s 2014 season takes the edge for me.
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Ted Glover, The Daily Norseman: Marcus Sherels
For me it comes down to Marcus Sherels, with Matt Asiata a close second, and Andrew Sendejo way out of the picture…much like his coverage skills AMIRITE? Asiata filled in admirably for Adrian Peterson last year, but over the breadth of the career arc, Sherels has contributed more for a longer period of time. He’s become the best punt returner in the NFL and is an okay dime guy that gives the Vikings bench depth at corner if injuries hit. Every July we all proclaim that the Marcus Sherels era is over, and every year his roster spot only seems to be more secure by the end of training camp.
By contrast, Asiata’s contributions outside of 2014 were fairly minimal, and now that Peterson has returned, Asiata’s contributions have dropped again. As for Sendejo, yeah, he’s a starter, but not a good one, and you could make the case his starting has been a bigger net loss than net gain.