Saturday, July 4, 2015

blair walsh

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An American flag flutters in the wind over the Vikings' new stadium

Image courtesy of Vikings.com

In a move expected by many, the NFL’s 32 owners approved the Competition Committee’s proposal on extra points for the 2015 season. The rule changes, which were passed on a 30-2 vote Tuesday, are as follows:

  • The extra point will now be kicked from the 15-yard line with two-point conversions remaining at the 2-yard line.
  • If the defense returns a blocked extra point or failed two-point try for a touchdown, they will be awarded two points. Under the previous rule the ball was dead on a failed try.

Blair Walsh, the Vikings’ ace fourth-year kicker, has been nearly perfect when kicking extra points — in 109 attempts, he’s missed just one kick, giving him a 99.1 career percentage in such situations. With the changes, extra points will now move to the 15-yard line, where Walsh has been nearly as successful.

In 31 career attempts between 30-39 yards (extra points are now 33 yards), Walsh has connected on 28 kicks. His leg from this distance is close to perfection, as he’s a 90.3 percent kicker in this range. When news broke of the rule changes, Walsh shared his response on Twitter:

For Walsh, the change in distance is negligible. His percentages from either distance are above average, and 33-yard field goals are routine for most NFL kickers. Defensive coaches and special teams coordinators will adjust their gameplans, scheming more “block” concepts into these plays, but I expect minimal effect on box scores next season.

If anything, the news is beneficial to players like Walsh; an increased importance on the extra point equates to an increase in value for kickers who can deliver from this range. Walsh, in turn, may enjoy a salary increase once his rookie contract expires.

For more Vikings news, check out the links below:

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Only a few days remain until the 2015 NFL Draft, so looking ahead to the 2016 free agency situation seems incredibly far away. It’s worth being aware of, however, because the Vikings have 23 players entering the final year of their contract this season.

On top of those 23, keep this in mind: 2012 first-round pick Harrison Smith has a fifth-year option in his contract, which gives the Vikings another 16 games to make any long-term decisions. According to ESPN, GM Rick Spielman has until May 3 to decide on the extra year. It seems safe to say at this point, however, that Spielman will go to lengths to keep Smith in purple, and it could be costly. The safety’s current deal is worth $7.14 million.

There will be a lot of decisions to be made regarding re-signing, restructuring, or saying “good-bye” to lots of roster members, so let’s see who will be free agents prior to the 2016 season:

OFFENSE

DEFENSE

SPECIAL TEAMS

*will be a restricted free agent

Let’s take a look at a few of the more notable players on this list…

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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.

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[NOTE FROM ADAM: In case you missed it, last week we introduced “Sleeper Sunday” where a few of us here at VT take a look at some under-the-radar prospects prior to May’s NFL Draft. I took a look at a strong safety candidate, Austin highlighted a cornerback, and Carl found a developmental quarterback he likes. Check it out and enjoy today’s fresh batch of sleepers.]

I’m not sure that a punter can qualify as a true “sleeper” since they aren’t really expected to be selected early on during Draft Weekend, but I have one guy in mind that I’d really like to see competing with Jeff Locke for the team’s punter spot.

That punter that I’d most like to see the Vikings chase in the latest rounds of the draft, or as an undrafted free agent, is Kansas Jayhawk Trevor Pardula.

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Image courtesy of Vikings.com

[Note:  This segment is a part of a position-by-position look at what the Minnesota Vikings might be inclined to do during the 2015 free agency period.  This is the fifth article, focusing on the specialists.  In case you missed it, feel free to check out the quarterbacksrunning backs, tight ends, and the fullbacks are here.]

The Vikings are likely to see some movement this offseason when it comes to their key player on special teams.

To start, however, we should look at the one guy who seems about 99% safe in terms of job security. Kicker Blair Walsh is coming off of a down year in terms of consistency, but his body of work as a whole makes him more likely to get an extension this year than get replaced, by a long shot.  Walsh is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is scheduled to have a cap hit of only $689,483.

At age 25, it would take a huge fall from grace for the strong-legged Walsh to be considered anything other than our guy in the present, and well into the future.

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