Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
So far in the Vikings 2013 Rookie Review, we’ve looked at how the Vikings first four selections in the 2013 NFL Draft did in their rookie seasons.
We’ve now come to the fifth, and perhaps most controversial, rookie the Vikings selected in the 2013 Draft.
The Vikings selected punter Jeff Locke from UCLA with the 155th overall pick, making a wave that wouldn’t fully come around until the following offseason.
Locke was the first punter selected in the 2013 draft, which was an interesting move for the team because they already had a veteran punter in Chris Kluwe. Kluwe at the time held several Vikings franchise records for punting, including career punting average. Rumors immediately began to circulate that the team was now willing to part with Kluwe because of his outspoken views.
The Vikings official stance was that Locke and Kluwe would “compete” for the punting job in training camp, but just a short time later Kluwe was cut. The move made sense in that Locke was a younger, cheaper option at the position, but that didn’t stop rumors circulating about Kluwe’s untimely exit.
Kluwe later released a Deadspin piece decrying the way the Vikings handled the situation and claiming special teams coordinator Mike Priefer used homophobic language, which certainly brought Locke some unwanted publicity.
Locke opened up the 2013 season as the team’s starting punter and holder for field goals, and like most rookies he had some struggles adjusting to the NFL. His leg tended to be erratic early in the season, with some huge punts but also a few that died quickly in the air.
He had a few shaky holds on field goals as well, and he may have contributed to a few of Blair Walsh’s misses this season.
Locke finished his rookie season with an average net of 44.2 yards on his punts, which ranked him 22nd in the NFL. Now, it’s worth noting that Vikings punters are instructed to take some heat off their kicks, so Locke’s ranking isn’t completely indicative of his relative value in the NFL.
Expectations for 2014
Locke will be the Vikings starting punter in all likelihood again in 2014, as well as the field goal holder, and the key for him will now be consistency. He will have to simply work on erasing nerves and eliminating some of the lesser punts he kicked last year.
Another year working on holding for Walsh should also hopefully increase the chemistry between the two, which should lead to better production from the Vikings field goal unit.