Cordarrelle Patterson, Marcus Sherels "Return" to Top of Special Teams Rankings

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Keeping the positive energy going with our third installment in a series recapping the greatest moments of the Minnesota Vikings’ tumultuous 2016 season. 

The Minnesota Vikings may have struggled to convert extra point attempts at a high rate and Blair Walsh certainly earned his release amid the 2016 season, but just about every other special teams group was exceptional. Walsh’ replacement Kai Forbath, however, has absolutely no clue how it feels to miss a field goal as a member of the Vikings, having converted all 15 of his attempts in Minnesota.

Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels continued their reign as the best at their respective return positions and combine to form the most lethal return specialist combination in professional football — and no, this is not debatable because it’s as close to fact as a subjective statement can be.

Even punter Jeff Locke, who I have literally been saying screaming should be released by the Vikings since 2014, produced both his best and most consistent season as a professional.

While there were moments the team would take a mulligan on — Adam Thielen’s fumble on a punt return against Dallas, in particular — each of the aforementioned elements plus Patterson’s flat-out dominant efforts as a gunner, Mike Priefer’s unit was about as good as it gets in the NFL.

Many teams don’t produce five highlight-reel special teams plays over the duration of an entire season, but the Vikings could put together a nice collection with just their snaps against the Arizona Cardinals. Without further ado, here are our Vikings Top-5 Special Teams Plays in 2016.

Be sure to check out our previous rankings as well, and keep an eye out for the remaining articles in our series highlighting the most thrilling Vikings moments from the 2016 season:

Basic Criteria: 1. Level of Difficulty 2. Game and/or Situational Importance 3. Entertainment Value

HM. JAYRON KEARSE GRABS ONSIDE KICK VS. GB (W16)

Did rookie Jayron Kearse’s onside kick recovery during the closing seconds against the Green Bay Packers (ew) have any noticeable value to the Vikings? Not really, Kearse claiming possession of the ball does mean Minnesota, and more specifically kicker Kai Forbath, shot a perfect 100 percent on onside kick attempts in 2016. Under 15 percent of expected onside kicks are recovered, which makes this a recognizable achievement strictly because of its difficulty and rarity across all levels of football.

5. K KAI FORBATH CONVERTS FIRST XP ATTEMPT VS. ARZ

This ranking is a direct reflection of the “entertainment value” piece of the criterion. Extra point attempts, from a relative standpoint, are extremely easy and should be converted at close to a 100-percent rate. But, given Walsh’s kicking issues, and the Vikings potentially lost their first matchup against the Detroit Lions due to a whiffed 33-yarder.

As a result of this in combination with multiple other incidents, other issues and just general frustrations with its kicker, Walsh was red-tagged, which led to the signing of free agent placekicker Kai Forbath. The veteran came in, immediately went to work and connected on a basic field goal attempt against the Arizona Cardinals was then fired, whether sarcastically or simply a product of inadvertent relief, fans roared with approval to salute the recently-signed veteran.

While he did connect on all 15 of his attempts after being added to Minnesota’s active roster, Forbath actually managed a lower extra point percentage (78.6%) than Walsh (78.9%) on far fewer snaps.

4. P JEFF LOCKE 72-YARD PUNT VS. JAX

Punters get a bad reputation, but punting absolutely matters. Jeff Locke, after a couple lousy seasons, the former UCLA Bruin finally put together a solid season in Minnesota. The pinnacle of this season came against Jacksonville, in which he blasted a 72-yard punt to completely shift the field in favor of the Vikings. Sure, he received a nice bounce here, but the punt itself was outstanding nonetheless.

3. PR MARCUS SHERELS 79-YARD TD VS. HOU

I’ll admit it: There was a time when I thought Marcus “cockroach” Sherels should be cut from the Vikings. With so many other capable punt returners on the team, it made plenty of sense, but plays like this are why Sherels continues to maintain a 53-man roster spot. His ability to find the hole and explode through it is second-to-none in franchise history.

The Houston Texans learned that the hard way when Sherels found the end zone for the second time in 2016.

2. PR MARCUS SHERELS 54-YARD TD VS. CAR

The fact alone that Sherels returned two punts for touchdowns in 2016 is impressive, but the manner in which he scored and his timing makes them all the better. In this instance, Sherels helped bring the Vikings back from the dead. Shortly after Danielle Hunter put the Vikings on the board with a safety, the Vikings punt returner housed an Andy Lee punt to bring his team within two points of the Carolina Panthers.

Sherels’ first punt return of the season not only put six points up on the scoreboard, but it was a key component to the momentum shift that ultimately led the Vikings to their third win of the season.

1. KR CORDARRELLE PATTERSON 104-YARD TD VS. ARZ

Cordarrelle Patterson was going to find himself on this list somehow. Simply put, he is the best kick return man in Vikings history — and there have been some very good ones — and arguably the greatest at returning kicks in the history of the NFL.

With Minnesota leading the Arizona Cardinals by just three points coming out of the half, Patterson put his mark on the game in the best way he knows how. After catching the ball four yards back in the end zone, the Vikings stud kick returner exploded up the middle of the field, danced around multiple Cardinals special teamers and went 104 yards into the end zone before hopping into the stands after sending Minnesota to a lead it would not relinquish.

Others Considered: Mike Priefer Almost Rallies Team to Win Filling in as Head Coach vs. DAL; KR Cordarrelle Patterson 61-Yard Return vs. TEN; KR Cordarrelle Patterson 53-Yard Return vs. JAX; PR Marcus Sherels 36-Yard Return vs. CHI (W17); K Kai Forbath 51-Yard Field Goal vs. IND; K Blair Walsh 50-Yard Field Goal vs. TEN

Comment Below with the 2016 Vikings special teams plays that forced you to lie about your previous desire to cut Marcus Sherels. And, let us know if we got this list right.

NFL Film Clips courtesy of NFL Game Pass.