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3 Special Teams Stats that were Solid in 2019, 2 to Improve in 2020


EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings special teams in 2019 involved a significant amount of offseason experimentation, the departure and return of a veteran return specialist twice and a change in direction under Special Teams Coordinator Marwan Maalouf.

The Vikings used their 12th and final pick of the 2019 NFL Draft to select long snapper Austin Cutting, setting up a camp competition with veteran Kevin McDermott that Cutting eventually won.

Minnesota also brought back veteran kicker Dan Bailey and returned punter/holder Matt Wile from 2018 to training camp. The Vikings then made a trade to acquire kicker/punter Kaare Vedvik in August, but he was released during roster reductions. Head Coach Mike Zimmer also brought in retired kicker Nate Kaeding as a kicking coach. Kaeding assisted part-time in the offseason and season.

Wile was released when the Vikings signed punter/holder Britton Colquitt after the veteran's release from Cleveland.

The addition of Colquitt turned into one of the best by the Vikings because of what he was able to do to help the operation on field goals and extra points and his strong punting performance.

The Vikings began 2019 without Marcus Sherels as their punt returner but brought back the veteran in late September. He was released a month later and landed in Miami. The Dolphins waived him in mid-December, and Sherels returned to Minnesota in January for the postseason.

After recapping stats for the offense and defense earlier this week, here are three special teams stats that were good and two that need to improve in 2020.

View the top photos of Vikings K Dan Bailey from the 2019 season.

Here are three special teams stats that were solid in 2019:

1. 22 in a row

Including the playoffs, Bailey made his final 22 field goal attempts to close his ninth pro season and second in Minnesota.

The successful stretch began in Week 8 against Washington when he went 4-for-4 on field goals and added an extra point on the way to garnering his first of three NFC Special Teams Player of the Week awards in 2019.

Bailey also made four field goals at the Los Angeles Chargers and at home against the Bears in a three-week span.

He finished the regular season 27-for-29 on field goals for a percentage of 93.1, which was up from 75.0 percent in 2018 (21-for-28).

Bailey continued his accuracy in the postseason, making all three field goals and all three extra points over the course of two playoff games.

2. 42.6 net average

Colquitt set a Vikings single-season record for net punting average with a strong 42.6 on the season.

He also became the fourth NFL punter — and second Viking (Ryan Quigley, 2017) — since 1991 to not record a touchback during a season (minimum of 40 punts). Colquitt is the only player to accomplish that feat and have a net average of 42.0 or higher.

The 10-year veteran punted in 15 games (Minnesota did not punt against Washington) and was the only player in 2019 with at least one punt of 50 or more yards in each outing.

3. 11 special teams tackles

Rookie Kris Boyd led the Vikings with 11 special teams tackles. Boyd's relentless effort as a gunner showed on punt coverage and while helping defend kickoff returns.

Boyd played 303 special teams snaps during the regular season and 52 more in the playoffs.

It was a great way for the seventh-round pick to adjust to the NFL.

Here are two special teams stats that need to improve in 2020:

1. 25.1 vs. 22.4 on kickoff return averages

The Vikings allowed opponents to average 25.1 yards on kickoff returns in 2019, which ranked 27th in the NFL.

Minnesota's return unit, however, only managed 22.4 per kickoff return, which ranked 16th and was 2.1 yards shy on average of the 24.5 by the Vikings that ranked sixth in the NFL in 2018. The 2019 season was just the second in the past decade, along with 2017, in which the Vikings did not have a kickoff return of at least 40 yards.

The combination of the average allowed trumping the average gained did not help field position for Minnesota's offense or defense, and the Vikings will do themselves a favor if they can yield more explosive returns in 2020.

2. 6.8 yards per punt return

Minnesota also was unable to find significant gains when returning punts.

Mike Hughes logged the longest punt return for the Viking in 2019 with a 23-yarder. He averaged 7.4 yards per return. Chad Beebe opened the season in the role and averaged 6.6 yards on seven returns.

Sherels averaged 5.5 on six returns, and Bisi Johnson gained 8.0 on his lone punt return.

Add it all up, and Minnesota's average of 6.8 yards per punt return ranked 21st in the NFL. It was 4.1 fewer yards per return than in 2018 and the first time that the Vikings averaged fewer than 7.0 yards per return since 2003 when the team mustered 6.9 and ranked 28th in the NFL.