Dynamic returners led Minnesota's special teams in 2016.
Cordarrelle Patterson, who received his second career Pro Bowl nod, led the league in kickoff return average (31.7 yards) during the regular season. The 2013 first-round pick became the first player in NFL history to accomplish the honor three times. His 792 total kick return yards ranked third in the NFL.
"His vision is better," Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said Patterson showed improved use of vision in 2016.
"He's seeing the holes a little better, the seams a little better," Priefer said, before later adding, "[Cordarrelle] thinks he can score every time he touches the ball. And that's kind of our mentality."
Patterson recorded a 104-yard return for a touchdown to start the second half against Arizona. The touchdown was the fifth of his career, a franchise record.
On Jan. 6, the Associated Press named Patterson to the 2016 AP NFL All-Pro Team for the second time of his career when he received more than 80 percent of the votes cast for kickoff returner. Patterson was the only Vikings player named All-Pro but was one of five who received votes.
View the top 40 Vikings special teams images from the 2016 season.
Marcus Sherels once again proved the value of a strong punt returner. Despite missing five games due to injury, Sherels ranked second in the league for average punt return yards (13.9). Sherels returned 21 punts for the Vikings, recording 292 total yards.
Sherels returned punts for touchdowns at Carolina and against Houston, both of which were wins for Minnesota. He has a franchise-record five punt return touchdowns.
In the Vikings kicking game, Kai Forbath impressed by making all 15 of his field goal attempts, including four from more than 40 yards out. His longest of the season was a 51-yarder – a career high – against the Colts on Dec. 18.
Forbath signed with the Vikings on Nov. 16 after Blair Walsh started the season with Minnesota. Walsh was 12 of 16 on field goals and 15 of 19 on extra point attempts in the Vikings first nine games. Forbath finished 11 of 14 on PATs after having one attempt blocked and missing two others.
Priefer said that overall he was impressed by Forbath's performance after joining midseason. Although he called the missed PATs "inexcusable," Priefer said post-season evaluations will involve looking at Forbath's fit with the team moving forward.
The Vikings 2016 kicking stats are listed below:
Blair WalshField goals: 12/16 (1-19: 1/1; 20-29: 1/1; 30-39: 5/6; 40-49: 4/6; 50 : 1/2)
Kai ForbathField goals: 15/15 (1-19: 0/0; 20-29: 5/5; 30-39: 5/5; 40-49: 4/4; 50 : 1/1)
VikingsField goals: 27/31 (1-19: 1/1; 20-29: 6/6; 30-39: 10/11; 40-49: 8/10; 50 : 2/3)
Another position that will be assessed during the offseason is punter. Jeff Locke had a strong year for the Vikings but showed streaks of inconsistency down the stretch.
Locke's 34 punts downed inside the 20-yard line tied for fifth in the league and tied for first in franchise history. Over four seasons, Locke has downed 101 punts inside the 20, which is fourth in Vikings history.
"He's had some phenomenal games and some phenomenal punts," Priefer said. "But, as you've seen and as we've seen, he's got to be more consistent. That's kind of been his theme since we've got him. We knew the talent has always been there, and he's worked extremely hard at his trade."
Locke's 2016 stats are as follows:
74 punts; 3,155 yards; 42.6 average; 39.0 net average; 34 punts downed inside the 20; 24 punts of 50-plus yards; 3 touchbacks; longest punt of 72 yards; 0 blocked punts
Patterson's career kick return average of 30.4 ranks second all-time, just behind Hall of Famer Gale Sayers, who averaged 30.6 yards per kickoff return in his first five pro seasons (91 returns for 2,781 yards and six touchdowns).
The Vikings seven missed extra point attempts were the most of any team in the NFL. Cincinnati and Seattle each missed six.
With four punt return touchdowns under his belt, Sherels scored in front of his home crowd for the first time against the Texans on Oct. 9.
Partway through the second quarter, the Vikings defense forced the Texans to go three-and-out. Sherels fielded Houston's punt on his own 21 and angled up the field before turning back to the inside and juking his way through the middle. By the time he reached midfield, Sherels was free of all defenders and ran the final 50 yards to the end zone, where he was caught up to and congratulated by Vikings teammates.
Sherels' 79-yard return for a touchdown gave Minnesota a 24-0 lead over Houston and helped lead the Vikings to their fifth consecutive victory of the season.