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Lunchbreak: Young Speedsters Aim to Impact Vikings Offense & Special Teams

Speed is one of the most coveted traits across the league, as it's an aspect that usually gives teams an advantage in all three phases.

The Vikings have added some speed to their roster in recent years, including a handful of players in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Sam Ekstrom, who covers the Vikings for Purple Insider, recently wrote about the speed Minnesota has on offense and special teams.

He wrote:

Few skill players have the luxury, however, of focusing solely on the offensive side of the ball. That includes a number of depth options looking to make the Vikings roster at receiver and running back, who will need to use special teams as an entry point to make the team. For three in particular — Dan Chisena, Kene Nwangwu and Ihmir Smith-Marsette — their uncanny speed would make them compelling gadgets on offense for new play-caller Klint Kubiak, who said speed is the "number one attribute" he's looking for in his offensive weapons.

But the roster build-out is always a numbers game, and special teams is still any Day 3 draft pick's ticket to make the final 53.

"Being a young guy, being a rookie, you've got to love special teams," said Nwangwu, a fourth-round pick. "I take that personally if my name's up there, either not making a play or making a play, I want to make sure that I'm being seen on special teams."

View photos of Vikings players at the second joint training camp practice with the Broncos on August 12 at the TCO Performance Center.

Ekstrom noted that Nwangwu was clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.29 seconds, while Chisena's time was 4.32.

After making an impact on special teams in 2020, Chisena has grown as a receiver in 2021.

The Vikings signed Chisena exclusively as a special teams player last year despite his struggles holding onto the ball as a receiver. The results were mixed as Chisena's speed helped cut off opposing punt returners' angles, but he tied for a league-lead in missed special teams tackles with six.

Nonetheless, his raw speed gives him tremendous upside that has begun manifesting as a pass-catcher. His hands are noticeably improved, and Chisena was impressive against the Broncos defensive backs in Wednesday's joint practices, getting open easily during 1-on-1 drills, but he's not willing to admit that his speed is earning him more separation.

"That's for the coaches to decide," he said. "I just try to go out there and do my job and run as fast as I can, and if that gives me separation, I want to use that to my advantage."

Smith-Marsette has some wheels, too, with a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash. He has shown up on offense as a receiver but Vikings coaches have said special teams is an area of his game that needs to be better.

Time will tell if these three youngsters end up on the Vikings 53-man roster. If they do, they each could bring a speed element that would be hard for defenses to stop.

Ekstrom wrote:

The test for the Vikings is finding value for these players at their natural positions, where they've had hesitancy in the past.

There's speed on this year's roster that shouldn't go to waste.

PFF lists Peterson as Vikings key 1st-year starter in 2021

All eyes seem to be on Patrick Peterson these days, as the Vikings cornerback is drawing a good amount of preseason buzz.

Chad Graff of The Athletic for example, recently tabbed the veteran cornerback as his breakout player for the 2021 season.

And Ben Linsey from analytics website Pro Football Focus is also curious about Peterson, who was listed on Linsey's list of key first-year starters for each NFL team.

Linsey wrote:

The Vikings represent a blank slate for Peterson to rejuvenate his impressive career. Peterson ranks in just the 37th percentile of outside cornerbacks in coverage grade over the past two seasons. However, Vance Joseph's man-heavy defense did Peterson's declining athleticism no favors. The Vikings' secondary provides an opportunity for Peterson to bounce back in a more favorable defensive scheme. Only the Chargers, Seahawks and Rams have run more zone coverage than Minnesota over the past two seasons.

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Earlier this week, Vikings defensive backs coach Karl Scott expressed high praise for Peterson's willingness to learn.

"You know his résumé, and he's coming here with a clean slate, and he's ready and eager to learn," Scott said. "You might look at him as a guy that you can't coach. 'He's good enough, he knows what to do, just put him out there.'

"But it's totally the opposite of that," Scott added. "Pat wants to know, he wants to be critiqued, he wants to know what he's doing wrong or what he can improve on, and not only that, but when you give it to him, he's willing to apply it on the field."

Peterson spent 10 seasons in Arizona before landing in Minnesota this offseason. He is an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection.