Amidst the chaos of injuries and turnovers that characterized the Vikings’ 2023-24 season, was a disappointing regression in special teams performance. That is the focus of Part III of my Vikings’ offseason evaluation. Part I: Offensive Overview and Part II: Quarterbacks are linked.
The Low-Key Disappointing Vikings Special Teams
There wasn’t much excitement produced by the Vikings special teams units this year. That’s largely because they didn’t produce many big plays. It wasn’t just that there were hardly any big kick or punt returns. Greg Joseph was also only just over 50% (7/13) on field goals over 40 yards. That’s not very good, especially being only 50% from 40-49 yards. Overall, the Vikings ranked 28th in field goal percentage made at 80%. In terms of kickoffs, the Vikings ranked middle of the pack (17th) in touchbacks on kickoffs this season.
From a punting standpoint, big plays come by pinning opponents inside their 20-yard line. Ryan Wright, who did so well with that last year, really struggled with it this season. Last season he had just one touchback all season and 43.8% of his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. This season he had 7 touchbacks and just 28.8% of his punts inside the 20-yard line. Wright had just 17 punts inside the 20 this year, compared to 32 last season. That’s a big difference that plays out in field position battles and can be impactful especially in close games- which the Vikings have plenty of. Overall, the Vikings ranked in the bottom half (21st) in net yards per punt this season.
Another aspect of special teams that was disappointing this season was penalties. The Vikings were among the least penalized teams this season overall in terms of penalty yards, but only two teams had more special teams penalties this season than the Vikings. Those penalties can not only wipe out a good return, but also result in poor field position to start a drive. Indeed, the Vikings ranked 29th in starting field position this season.
On the positive side, the Vikings did have a successful fake punt again this season, and in general Brandon Powell seemed like an upgrade over Jalen Reagor as punt returner, although he didn’t have many impactful punt returns, and the Vikings avoided having any punts blocked this season. And long-snapper Andrew DePaola made the Pro Bowl for the second year in a row.
But overall, the Vikings’ special teams units took a step backward this season in many subtle but collectively impactful ways, which may come down to coaching. The Vikings finished 30th in special teams DVOA for the second season in a row.
The Vikings’ special teams are coached by Matt Daniels, who in the past has been seen as a coach on the ascent. But the results on the field of his special teams units hasn’t been anything to write home about, either this year or last year, overall. And the overall regression this year in many key metrics may not bode well for his future. It’s unclear how harshly Kevin O’Connell and the Vikings’ front office may view the results on special teams this season, and to what degree they attribute them to Daniels, but clearly the Vikings’ special teams are not adding much value to the team at the moment and are heading in the wrong direction.
Whether a coaching change is needed to improve the Vikings’ special teams is a question at this point, and one the Vikings will likely evaluate in the coming weeks. But clearly there is a lot of room for improvement in the often-overlooked area of special teams when evaluating a team overall.
The other consideration for the Vikings this offseason is that Greg Joseph is a free agent, and punter Ryan Wright has gone from good last season to not-so-good this season. Longsnapper Andrew DePaola remains under contract through 2025, while punt returner Brandon Powell is a free agent and kick returner Kene Nwangwu has a year left on his rookie contract.
It’s an open question whether the Vikings will seek to extend Greg Joseph, who’s been mediocre at best, making 80% of his field goal attempts over the past two seasons, and just over 90% of his extra point attempts. Ryan Wright certainly deserves competition after last season as well, and moving on from him would entail next to no dead cap cost.
Overall, there is a strong argument to be made that the Vikings need a change of direction and coaching on special teams, and probably a new kicker and perhaps a new punter as well. There are at least a few other free agent kickers available with a better track record than Greg Joseph, including Wil Lutz, Greg Zuerlein, Chase McLaughlin, and Ka’imi Fairbairn.
But there is a reasonable basis for a coaching change as well, as the overall regression on special teams in multiple areas can often be the result of coaching. Hiring a new special teams coach to evaluate new specialists, engage in new competition, and bring a fresh perspective and method to coaching special teams could be in the Vikings’ best interest.
Should the Vikings move on from special teams coach Matt Daniels?
This poll is closed