Special teams needs to be a priority for Vikings in 2021 NFL Draft

(Photo by Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports) Riley Patterson
(Photo by Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports) Riley Patterson /

Success will be much easier for the Minnesota Vikings in 2021 if they use this year’s NFL Draft to improve their special teams.

For as much as the Minnesota Vikings struggled on the defensive side of the ball last season, their special teams performed even worse.

In 2020, the Vikings ranked last in the NFL in field goal percentage, 29th in extra-point percentage, 31st in kickoff average, 30th in yards per punt, last in yards per punt return, 26th in yards allowed per kick return, and 23rd in yards allowed per punt return.

In short, Minnesota’s special teams was terrible last season, and it’s why they have someone new, Ryan Ficken, in charge of the unit this year.

Minnesota Vikings must use the 2021 NFL Draft to help improve their special teams

Aside from making Ficken their new coordinator and releasing kicker Dan Bailey, the Vikings haven’t made many changes to their special teams this offseason.

It’s possible that Minnesota could be waiting until the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft to add some new pieces to their special teams unit. They should have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to returners, punters, and kickers. 

There are a bunch of talented returners in this year’s draft pool, including former Western Michigan receiver D’Wayne Eskridge, former Alabama receiver Jaylen Waddle, former UCLA running back Demetric Felton, and former Florida receiver Kadarius Toney. If the Vikings are lucky, they will find a returner who can also double as either their No. 3 receiver or No. 3 running back.

Minnesota has drafted two kickers (Blair Walsh and Daniel Carlson) during Rick Spielman’s tenure as the team’s general manager, and neither of them ended up working out. Some of the most successful kickers in NFL history were not drafted (Justin Tucker, Ryan Longwell, Adam Vinatieri), so it’s difficult to argue that a pick should be used on the position.

Still, if Spielman has his eye on someone, he’s not going to hesitate to pull the trigger. Some of the top kicking prospects the Vikings could consider in this year’s draft include Florida’s Evan McPherson, Miami’s Jose Borregales, and Memphis’ Riley Patterson.

When it comes to drafting a punter, it’s even worse of an idea than using a selection on a kicker. The last time Minnesota drafted a punter was back in 2013 when they selected Jeff Locke out of UCLA. Locke ended up lasting four seasons with the Vikings before the team parted ways with the punter.

If for some reason, Minnesota is interested in drafting a punter again this year, guys like Cincinnati’s James Smith, Kentucky’s Max Duffy, and Georgia Tech’s Pressley Harvin III are some of the best available.

Whatever needs the Vikings choose to fill in the upcoming draft, special teams absolutely needs to be one of them. The lack of success by the unit played a large part in Minnesota missing the playoffs in 2020, and if the special teams problems don’t get fixed, then there will just be more of the same problems next season.