An interesting, but not completely surprising, choice by the Vikings will see a UCLA punter compete against another UCLA alum, with drafted rookie Jeff Locke slated to see time against the controversial punter currently on the roster.
As a left-footed kicker, Jeff Locke presents a unique challenge for opposing special teams, as the angles of attack and the flight of the football changes with the foot used to punt the ball. The ball spins counter-clockwise and will move itself left over the course of the kick, which means their aiming points are different and tracking the ball becomes a new challenge. Without practicing against left-footed punters the week before, some special teams could find themselves in a new position.
Locke ranks second in UCLA history with a punting average of 44.23 yards and was a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award, the award for the nation's best punter. He was selected to play in the Senior Bowl and has been compared to Jaguars punter Brian Anger. While not likely as talented, Locke has a reputation for having a big leg, as a consistent leader in nation in net punting average. He's also known as a kickoff specialist, with 55 kickoff touchbacks throughout his career.
He did well at his time in the Senior Bowl with a long punt of 53 yards and two punts downed inside the 20-yard line. Kicking and punting specialist coaches have a lot of praise for Locke, too.
Chris Sailer, a third-party specialist when it comes to kicking and punting, told Alex Dunlap that Locke could be the best punter in the country.
He's really close as a punter, but he can kick off, too. He's the top punt-kickoff specialist we have ever trained. He came out of the same high school prep class as [current NFL kickers] Justin Tucker and Blair Walsh. He is one of the strongest specialists we have ever trained when it comes to the mental side of the game.
Locke not only can boom the ball 60 yards through the air, he knows how to generate hang time, as well. With several punts during Senior Bowl practices floating in the air for longer than five seconds, he'll be perfect for setting up the gunners to run down punts and keep the field position flipped.
Traditionally, punters are either known for their ability to boom the ball or their ability to play accurately. As the NFL progresses, punters have been asked to produce both. While Kluwe has massively improved in his accuracy, Locke comes in with more coffin-corner punting in his skill set right off the bat and only projects to get better. With only 7 touchbacks and 34 punts blocked inside the 20, Locke would have been one of the top punters in the league at preventing free yards.
Chris Kluwe has been better in the NFL with 13 inside the 20 and only two touchbacks, but is in all likelihood on the downside of his career. Kluwe's current punting average is a little bit better at 45.0, but we've detailed before how much punting average can be too misleading.
With good coaching, Locke stands to be one of the best in the NFL. In fact, he has already shown significant improvement in his time in college, improving from his touchback-to-downed punts ratio his freshman year (11:20). On the other hand, his longest punt came his freshman year as well—81 yards (with a favorable roll).
His calling card should be his consistency—massive improvements in his junior year kept his kicks looking alike, which should come as a relief for Vikings fans who were a bit concerned with Kluwe's midseason form.
Locke also shares my birthday, but was born a year later. September 27, 1989 is Jeff Locke's birthday.