Early prediction for how the Vikings line up on special teams

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Minnesota struggled on special teams in a lot of different ways this past season.

The Vikings had punts blocked. They didn’t have a great net average on punts, either. The team had bad snaps on field goals and costly misses from its kicker. Minnesota even had muffed punts and fumbles on returns. The team also couldn’t get anything going on punt returns in terms of average yardage.

All that is to say that there is room to improve on special teams for 2021. The Vikings brought in some enticing special teams players this offseason, at least some of whom will likely hold down key roles for next season.

Here is an early prediction for how the team could line up on special teams:

Kick returner

Dec 5, 2020; Ames, Iowa, USA; Iowa State running back Kene Nwangwu (3) rushes during their football game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday. Iowa State would go on to defeat West Virginia 42-6. Mandatory Credit: Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota returns Ameer Abdullah for 2021. Abdullah has experience fielding kicks in the past, but the Vikings also have some enticing rookies who can compete for kick returner spots. Rookies Kene Nwangwu and Ihmir Smith-Marsette both make for decent options. I think a fourth round is a lot to invest in Nwangwu if he's nothing more than a third running back, so my guess would be that he could take this spot. Prediction: Kene Nwangwu becomes main kick returner

Punt returner

Iowa junior Ihmir Smith-Marsette takes a kick return 98-yards for a touchdown in the second quarter against USC during the Holiday Bowl on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, at the SDCCU Stadium in San Diego, Calif.
20191227 Holidaybowl

Punt returners Chad Beebe and K.J. Osborn both return to the team. The two struggled in punt return average. They also struggled to hang onto the ball at times. If Smith-Marsette loses out on a lot of kick return reps, he could take over punt returner. I think Smith-Marsette could make the roster as a reserve wideout, so it makes sense to find a special teams role for him. Prediction: Ihmir Smith-Marsette takes the spot

Punter

Minnesota Vikings punter Britton Colquitt (2) smiles before the start of an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020, in Minneapolis. The Bears defeated the Vikings 33-27. (AP Photo/David Berding)

The Vikings restructured with Britton Colquitt this offseason. Despite bringing in LSU product Zach Von Rosenberg to compete with him, I still think this is Colquitt's job to lose. Colquitt's 45.1 net average in 2020 was not very good, but maybe he can have a resurgent 2021. Prediction: Britton Colquitt takes the spot

Long snapper

Jan 3, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Minnesota Vikings long snapper Andrew Depaola (42) recovers a fumble by Detroit Lions wide receiver Jamal Agnew (39) during the first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota waived long snapper Austin Cutting last season. Cutting was the starting long snapper at the beginning of the year, but struggled with long snaps on field goals. Andrew DePaola stepped into the role for the Vikings. DePaola didn't do anything to lose the position, but he has ample competition this offseason in former San Diego State long snapper Turner Bernard. This one could really go either way, but DePaola has more NFL experience. Prediction: Andrew DePaola takes the spot

Kicker

Nov 28, 2020; Annapolis, Maryland, USA; Memphis Tigers place kicker Riley Patterson (36) warms up before the game against the Navy Midshipmen at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

This one will be interesting. It's Greg Joseph vs. Riley Patterson. Joseph is an NFL veteran, but he doesn't have a ton of experience of being a team's mainstay kicker. Last time he kicked in a season was 2019, where he made nine-of-his-nine extra point attempts for the Titans. He attempted no field goals that season. The year before that, he made 17-of-20 field goals with the Browns. Patterson is one of the top kickers in this rookie class. He has higher upside than Joseph at the moment. Patterson went 240-of-246 on extra points and 64-of-82 — which equates to about 78% — on field goals in his collegiate career. In his final collegiate season, he went 15-for-22 on field goals. He needs to be more accurate than that in training camp in order to secure the kicking position. But if Patterson can come in and impress, I could see the Vikings going with him. Prediction: Riley Patterson takes the job

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