Vikings could have a significant problem on special teams in 2022

(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) Ihmir Smith-Marsette
(Photo by David Berding/Getty Images) Ihmir Smith-Marsette /

While the Minnesota Vikings are set at kick returner with Kene Nwangwu, the team currently does not know who will be their punt returner next season.

“These guys are rusty.” That’s how Minnesota Vikings special teams coordinator Matt Daniels recently described the four players who have been taking punt return reps during the team’s OTA practice sessions this spring.

According to Daniels, it’s been a group of four wide receivers getting the reps so far. The group includes K.J. Osborn, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, rookie Jalen Nailor, and undrafted rookie Thomas Hennigan.

Osborn is the only one who has any NFL experience when it comes to returning punts, and while he has made great strides as a receiver in his time with the Vikings, he’s averaged just 4.5 yards per punt return in the last two seasons.

Who will be the punt returner for the Minnesota Vikings in 2022?

While Osborn has the most experience on Minnesota’s roster as a punt returner in the NFL, it’s not like he has excelled in the role. Plus, the Vikings’ new offensive staff might want all of his focus to be on making plays as the team’s No. 3 receiver next season instead of spending any time returning punts.

Smith-Marsette appears to be someone that intrigues Daniels as a possible punt returner for Minnesota. The Vikings special teams coordinator recently mentioned how we already know that Smith-Marsette has kick return ability, but the coach believes the young receiver “possesses a certain skill-set” that could translate well into returning punts.

During his college career at Michigan State, Nailor returned a grand total of eight punts, and he averaged six yards per return. But if the rookie receiver wants to get on the field next season, winning the punt returning job might be the best way.

Hennigan might be the dark horse in this position battle. During his five years at Appalachian State, he returned 64 punts, and he averaged 7.6 yards per return. So he could be someone to keep an eye on this summer during the punt return competition.

Minnesota still has plenty of time to figure out who will open the 2022 season as their punt returner. But it’s something that could quickly become a problem for the team if the winner of the job begins to struggle.

The 2020 season was a disaster for the Vikings when it came to returning punts (averaged just 4.3 yards per return) and, hopefully, the team is doing everything they can to avoid a performance like that from happening again in 2022.

Trending. 6 most disappointing Vikings offseason moves of 2022. light