Vikings Territory asked, and the readers spoke; in this series of articles, the team will announce the winners of our fan-voted awards, from the Minnesota Vikings’ MVP of 2015 to the Rookie of the Year. Today, a look at the Special Teams Player of the Year, as voted by you, the fans.
Blair Walsh, K — Minnesota Vikings
One play doesn’t define a game, a season, or even a career. Despite missing the game-winning field goal against the Seattle Seahawks earlier this month, Blair Walsh put together one of the best campaigns of his short tenure in the NFL. Even before the year began, the front office expressed confidence in their kicker, signing Walsh to a four-year, $14 million contract at the start of training camp.
He failed to deliver early on, especially in the preseason. While battling a nasty case of the “yips,” Walsh went just 5-of-11 in exhibition games and struggled to connect on the new, 33-yard extra points. His first attempt of the year was a miss against the San Francisco 49ers. He missed a field goal against the Denver Broncos in a game that was ultimately decide by three points. And then, the misses stopped.
Over the next four games, Walsh was a perfect 13-for-13, averaging nearly 40 yards per field goal. In two of those games, he drilled game-winning kicks against the Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams. The pressure to perform didn’t seem to weigh on Walsh, and that’s the same mentality he’s taking into 2016.
As Lindsey Young described at Vikings.com, Walsh was both humble and confident as he cleared out his locker nearly two weeks ago:
“I’ll be more confident going into next year,” Walsh said. “I know that sounds crazy, but this will drive me to work even harder, and I had those struggles early on in the year, but I finished the year with a good streak and a really high note, and then for it to kind of end that way in the playoffs, that was tough. But, you know, I’m confident in my abilities, and I know I can continue to be elite at this level.”
According to reader input, Walsh finished with 40.8 percent of the vote, giving him a 24-point victory over runner-up Adam Thielen. Punt returner Marcus Sherels and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson finished third and fourth, respectively. Jeff Locke and Kevin McDermott, the team’s long snapper, each received zero votes.
The seasoned ended as the result of his miss, but Walsh was and will continue to be an elite kicker in the NFL. Walsh led the league with 34 made field goals and connected on 87.2 percent of his attempts, the second-best mark of his career. As Adam Patrick wrote last week, Vikings fans should encourage Walsh moving forward, as he will have plenty of opportunities to make playoff field goals for the up-and-coming Minnesota Vikings.