With the 2017 NFL season being over, we’ve seen several sets of rankings floating around on the internet. One section of the game that doesn’t get looked at too often is Special Teams, but we have two sets of 2017 Special Teams rankings to look at, and they each say slightly different things about the Minnesota Vikings.
We’ll start with the bad side first. Rick Gosselin, the long-time columnist for the Dallas Morning News, released his annual special teams rankings, as he has done for many years now. He has the Vikings’ special teams as the 23rd-best unit in the league in 2017. Gosselin’s rankings break down several categories, and while it doesn’t list all of the rankings for every category, there are a few where we can see where the Vikings ranked.
On the positive side, Gosselin has the Vikings at #4 in the National Football League in kickoff returns, as well as committing the fewest special teams penalties in the NFL (just 11 for 98 yards). On the downside, he shows the Vikings’ punting as being the worst in the NFL with a gross average yardage of 42.16 yards. While that is a bit of a low number, Ryan Quigley’s season wasn’t as bad as that might make it appear for reasons we’ll get into shortly.
The other set of rankings we have come from Pro Football Focus, and they shine a much more favorable light on the Vikings’ special teams, as they show them as the top special teams unit in the NFL.
A nicely-balanced group, with Ryan Quigley going an entire regular season without a touchback from the punter spot, Kai Forbath improving steadily on place kicks after a shaky start, Marcus Sherels earning the league’s best grade as a punter returner,and a core group of C.J. Ham (14 tackles), Ben Gedeon (12 tackles), Kentrell Brothers (10 tackles), Jayron Kearse (nine tackles) and Anthony Harris (six tackles) rounding out the league’s best unit.
This is why I don’t think the punting situation is as bad as the Gosselin stats made it out to be, as that’s entirely based on net yardage. Quigley, as PFF mentions, was the first punter in a couple of years to go through an entire regular season with zero touchbacks on punts, and placed 29 punts inside of the 20-yard line. A few years ago, and I’m not sure if it coincided with the hiring of Mike Priefer to be the special teams coach or not, it appeared that the Vikings adapted the mindset of sacrificing yardage on punts for placement and preventing the big return
As far as the rest of the special teams are concerned, Kai Forbath did get better as the year went on, but he could potentially hit free agency in a month, so we’ll see if the team can do better. Marcus Sherels was his usual, steady self, though he had no touchdown returns this year and seemed to be a bit more willing to call for the fair catch than he had been in past seasons.
Frankly, I’m not sure that the Vikings are as good as the PFF rankings show them to be, but I certainly don’t think they’re as bad as the Gosselin rankings show. The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, as most things are in this league.