If you haven’t guessed by this point in the offseason, yes, I have a sneaking suspicion that the Vikings might proactively look towards the NFL Draft to replace veteran Chris Kluwe before the final year of his contract is played out. In my profile of Louisiana Tech punter Ryan Allen I talked about Kluwe’s high salary, special teams coordinator Mike Priefer’s comments about Kluwe’s exhaustive off field endeavours and also just the possibility of finding an upgrade at the position.
Since writing that article I have become even more convinced (keep in mind now, this strictly irresponsible speculation Adam talking, not news reporting Adam) that Kluwe’s cap hit could be reason enough for his early exit. The team currently has about $4.4 million in cap space, which is not likely to even be enough to sign their entire Draft class, let alone sign a guy like Antoine Winfield to a new contract on top of that. That means something has to happen, and while Kevin Williams or Jared Allen could still be candidates to change their contract status, finding an upgrade to Kluwe in the Draft and exchanging his $1.4 million salary for a rookie deal might just make too much sense.
The key to all of this, however, is finding a rookie that can be a clear upgrade to Kluwe like the Vikings found at kicker last year with Blair Walsh. I’ve already talked about how I think Ray Allen is that guy but may require a very high level of investment from a draft pick standpoint. This is actually a fairly talented and fairly deep punter class, but outside of Allen only one other guy really stands out as an excellent prospect.
LSU’s Brad Wing (6′ 3″ and 184 pounds) is unlikely to relieve Priefer of all drama on his squad, as he comes with a bit of a history. Wing is Australian born (do I even need to continue?) and, thus, has a brazen attitude and a tendency to find himself a “good time.” Its okay, I can say stuff like that, my best friend is an Aussie.
He first became noticed on a national level when he… a punter, mind you… nullified his own 52 yard touchdown run on a fake due to taunting the opponents prior to crossing the goalline. In his defense, as the video evidence shows, it was kind of a weak call. His troubles didn’t stop there as he was suspended for the Chick-Fil-A Bowl due to breaking team rules, and at least one unconfirmed report said it was substance related, and there have been rumors of other off-field incidents plaguing the young talent.
Wing became the first punter to declare early for the NFL Draft, he was a redshirt sophomore in 2012, since Chris Gardocki did it way back in 1991 and he certainly has the leg to justify such a move.
Wing started 24 games at LSU after playing just one year of high school ball as an exchange student. He was second in the SEC with a 2011 punt average of 44.4 yards and last ranked 12th in the nation with a 44.8 yard average. He occasionally unleashes ridiculously powerful punts like his 73 yarder against Alabama in 2011, eight more career punts of 60 yards or greater.
Perhaps even more important, however, is the talent he displays for directional punting. He has explained that his ability to do this with such proficiency comes from another game in another hemisphere: Australian Rules Football.
“You can score from any angle and distance so there’s a lot of kicks I’ve gotten used to over the years where the American kickers they just kind of stand there and kick it as far and high as they can,” Wing said in 2011. “That’s not my mindset. I’m just trying to kick it away from the return man. Coming over to America, I didn’t really understand why punters kicked to the return man.”
As of that article, dated January 6th, 2011, Wing had amazingly punted the football 50 times and LSU had only allowed six (yes, six) punt return yards in total. That is pretty amazing, really.
Now, maybe having Tyrann Mathieu on the coverage squad had a lot to do with that, because LSU’s overall punting game was quite as dominant in 2012, but Wing still was a cut above most punter prospects in most respects.
The question for NFL teams is whether or not they will be able to depend on Wing to stay out of trouble and be available on a weekly basis. The last thing an NFL team wants to do is use two roster spots on punters because the first one couldn’t stay smart. Without knowing how teams truly view Wing’s character it is impossible to predict where he will be selected. He is talented enough to be a third round pick, but is troubled enough to go undrafted.
If he starts to fall on Draft weekend, and the Vikings are intrigued enough, then he might just be a solution to a problem that is only one year away from being a significant one. For some NFL team’s fans, he will surely be one of the most intriguing players to watch in training camp.