Which Special Teams Player will Stand Out for the Vikings in 2015?
Darren: Adam Thielen
Thielen might be the common answer here, but as long as he keeps his place on the roster in 2015, he should make the biggest impact on special teams. He seems to be in on more special teams tackles than any other Viking and also made an impact with a blocked punt and a touchdown against Carolina last season. Minnesota could even opt to help out its secondary by dumping Marcus Sherels, which would slide Thielen into the job of punt returner, where he has flashed some skills in preseason.
Andy: [Punter to be Named Later]
Jeff Locke has to step it up in year three or he’s gone. Yes, he’ll probably benefit greatly from kicking indoors in 2016, but the Vikings can’t wait that long. He needs to start being an asset instead of a liability in the field position game this season, or he’ll be replaced. There will be improvement at the punter position in 2015. Whether that’s because Locke’s improved (having a familiar long snapper might help if McDermott beats out Loeffler) or because he’s been replaced is yet to be determined.
Lindsey: Josh Robinson
I’m thinking most people will pick Blair Walsh or a punt returner on this one, but I have to think outside the box and go with Robinson on this one. Most VT readers know I’ve been a believer in Robinson for the past three seasons, and last year he really showed what he’s capable of at the right position. Especially when it comes to special teams, Robinson plays a huge part in defending punt returns. He’s fast, which is absolutely necessary in special teams defense, and despite being a smaller corner, Robinson can (and has!) put some lethal tackles on guys! I expect him to play a significant role across the board in 2015.
Brent: Adam Thielen
I’m curious if I’ll be the only person to nominate Thielen when Blaire Walsh and Cordarrelle Patterson are clearly the more popular choices. Although Walsh’s and Patterson’s impacts are at times more notable and catch more attention, Thielen is in my opinion is the most versatile special teams contributors. Not only does Thielen do some punt returning, he’s also a gunner in punt coverage and when he’s not returning punts, he is someone asked to come off the edge and help block punts. Thielen’s greatest impact in 2014 is when he did exactly this and returned his own blocked punt for a touchdown. Thielen’s special teams prowess is why he made the final 53 last year and I expect him to improve his game in this regard. Unless Thielen makes splashy special teams plays, his impact is less likely to be noticed, but don’t discount the importance of his role in that regard.
Carl: Adam Thielen
Thielen won the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts in a Week 13 contest against the Panthers in which he blocked a punt and returned it 30 yards for the score. He was a fixture last season on most of the special teams units, and I believe 2015 will be another year for him to shine in a big way. In the 2014 preseason, Thielen returned five punts for a gaudy 25.4-yard average per return.
As a senior at Minnesota State, Thielen returned 24 punts for 239 yards and finished his career 3rd all time at MSU with 582 career punt-return yards. I look for Thielen to emerge as a legitimate candidate to win not only the punt return job but also get a good look at the kick return duties in preseason.
Arif: Josh Robinson
It’s boring to select returners, so I won’t … I think it will be Robinson. Special teams players need to be fast, physical, play with good tackling form and understand angles while remaining disciplined, all while punching above their weight. Josh Robinson is all of those things, and is pound for pound one of the stronger skill players on the team, excepting the corps of freaks at running back. He’s already a very good special teams players, but I think one more year with the group will cement his status as a dominant special teams ace. Everyone focuses on his speed, but forgets he hits like a train. He’s usually the first gunner to reach the returner on punts and knows how to fight through jammers. He also practices excellent edge work on kick return coverage units and can double as a returner himself in dicey situations.
Austin: Cordarrelle Patterson
After one of the more disappointing seasons given such high standards, Patterson will rebound to make a significant impact on special teams. The third-year player out of Tennessee burst onto the scene in 2013 with 43 kick returns for 1,393 touchdowns and 2 touchdowns, while averaging a league-best 32.4 yards per return. While I don’t expect him to replicate those numbers this season, I fully envision Patterson surpassing his lackluster 25.6 yard average from 2014. If he has grown as a player, both mentally and physically, he has a chance to make a real difference in the return game. With the ball in his hands, Patterson is one of the team’s most dangerous players. Can he put it all together next year? We’ll have to wait until kickoff to find out!
Adam: Cordarrelle Patterson
I’m a big believer in this year being a rebound season for Patterson. I was a huge fan of his leading up to the Draft, as readers here might remember, so I’m not ready to throw in the towel yet. If he is getting some offseason mentoring, open to some good coaching, and is putting in the work then I think he can still be great. With a wide out depth chart that is a bit crowded, and stands to get even more crowded through this Draft, Patterson may have to again prove himself on kick returns before trying to reestablish his place within the Vikings offense. He was a crazy-good kick returner his rookie season and I see no reason that can’t be the case again in 2015 whatever woes he was experience can be put in the rear view mirror.
Guests of the Week
Ben Leber, former Viking: Blair Walsh
In 2014, Blair experienced his worst year as a pro: FG percentage 74.3 (last in the NFL). Additionally, he didn’t finish the year very well, going 10-16 in November and December, and we all know winning football takes place in the last two months of the season. Was it the 13 of 16 games played outdoors?? Injury?? Out of sync with Jeff Locke (holder)?? A combination of all variables or maybe nothing more than an off year?? There are many reasons players go through streaks, both hot and cold, and that’s what makes it so challenging to be consistent week-in and week-out. But I believe Blair’s Pro Bowl Rookie season was more rule than exception. He has everything you want in a kicker: instincts, power, accuracy and most importantly, a fighter pilot’s focus. He will face another 13 games in the elements this season, and he will not make the same mistakes this year. Locke is continually getting better on the holds… albeit, possibly from a new snapper. In addition, Mike Priefer is one of the best Special Teams coaches in the league and will not have the distraction of a two-game suspension to hold him and his players back in 2015. Walsh will bounce back in Prow Bowl form.
Dave Berggren, Kare 11 News/Sports Reporter: Cordarrelle Patterson
Let’s face it: Patterson let fans down in 2014, and nobody really knows why. Sophomore slump? Still learning the offense? Lack of work ethic? Who knows.
But, could it be possible that Patterson is a better special teamer than a receiver? I’m aware that he wasn’t a breakout kick returner in 2014, either, but he did hold the job for most of the season and it was the skill that earned him a Pro Bowl spot following his rookie year. In that year, the Flash was the best kick returner in the league averaging 32 yards per return. Patterson’s 25 yards per return in 2014 were a sharp decline for him, but still good enough for 6th in the NFL.
So consider this.
In 2015, I would be thrilled with an average of Patterson’s first two years. An average of 29 yards per return would likely put him in the top three returners in the NFL. Patterson may disappoint as a receiver, but his freakish athletic abilities haven’t gone anywhere, and the very spot where they may resurface is in the return game.