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Friday, January 31, 2014
Vikings position outlook: Special teams

By Ben Goessling

MINNEAPOLIS -- We're concluding our position-by-position outlook of the Minnesota Vikings' roster. Today: the special teams.

SPECIAL TEAMS

2014 free agents: None

The good: Put simply, the Vikings found a star at kick returner. Cordarrelle Patterson was the only player in the NFL to return two kicks for touchdowns in 2013, and posted the second-highest kick return average since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. The Vikings were hoping Patterson could replace Percy Harvin, but he might have done them one better. Kicker Blair Walsh wasn't quite as good in his second season as he was as a rookie, missing three kicks from more than 50 yards as he struggled with a hamstring injury, but he still made 26 of his 30 field goals, and punt returner Marcus Sherels scored a touchdown.

The bad: As explosive as the Vikings' return game was, they also allowed plenty of big returns, including a punt return touchdown from Green Bay's Micah Hyde and a kick return touchdown from Baltimore's Jacoby Jones. Chicago's Devin Hester also had 249 kick return yards against the Vikings in Week 2, and in his one regular-season game with the Seahawks, Harvin had a 58-yard kick return against his former team. Punter Jeff Locke was also just OK as a rookie, finishing with the 25th-best gross average (44.2 yards per punt) and 18th-best net (39.2 yards) in the league.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Cullen Loeffler ($1.27 million), Walsh ($599,483), Locke ($541,048). The Vikings will have to think about their future at long snapper, where Loeffler has given them stability for 10 seasons. He will be a free agent after 2014, and while long snappers can play into their late 30s, it remains to be seen how long the 33-year-old Loeffler will want to play; it's possible he'd have a political career in his future. The Vikings have a kicker, punter and kick returner on rookie contracts, and while Sherels is a restricted free agent, it seems likely he'll be back.

Draft priority: Low. The Vikings will certainly draft players who will pitch in on special teams, but after taking a kicker and punter in their last two drafts, they'll almost certainly refrain from drafting another specialist this year.