This is the eighth in a series of position previews for the 2020 NFL draft, which runs Thursday to Saturday. special teams. Read them all here.
THREE NAMES TO KNOW
K Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia: Expected to be the first kicker drafted, Blankenship converted 80 of 97 field-goal attempts (82.5%) for the Bulldogs. His 55-yard field goal against Oklahoma in 2018 is the longest in the history of the Rose Bowl. He is more consistent under 40 yards, making 92.7% of his field-goal attempts at Georgia. He has proved serviceable from long range, making six of nine attempts from beyond 50 yards. He’s also an amateur hip-hop artist, releasing a song two years ago about the Bulldogs program.
P Braden Mann, Texas A&M: Waited until his junior season to play while behind Shane Tripucka, whom the Vikings worked out last summer while searching for a punter. Mann immediately became the nation’s top punter two years ago, earning the Ray Guy Award, while setting an NCAA record averaging 51 yards per punt. He followed up by ranking top five last season with a 47.1-yard average. Mann apparently isn’t afraid to get involved with a surprising seven tackles in coverage last season. He’s expected to be the top punter drafted.
PR/WR Jalen Reagor, Texas Christian: Reagor likely will be among the top 10 receivers drafted because he’s a dangerous athlete with the ball. NFL general managers will covet his upside on offense and creative coaches will find ways to use him right away, but Reagor also is expected to be a top punt returner. He averaged 20.8 yards on 15 punt returns — second in the NCAA — while housing two for touchdowns last season.
KR/WR Joe Reed, Virginia: Reed was an All-America after averaging 33.2 yards per kickoff return last fall. Scouting reports question whether Reed can become an NFL receiver after his 3,042 return yards more than doubled his receiving production for the Cavaliers.However, he projects as a solid special teamer on return and coverage phases and has high-end potential as a kick returner after ranking top 10 in NCAA average each of the past three seasons. He returned five kickoffs for touchdowns.
The Vikings re-signed both kicker Dan Bailey and punter/holder Britton Colquitt to three-year contract extensions during the offseason. The deals should put an end to years of turnover at both positions. Long snapper Austin Cutting also showed promise as a rookie after taking over for Kevin McDermott, adding to the security. Both returner spots might be up in the air. Last year’s kick returner, Ameer Abdullah, re-signed on a one-year deal but could face competition. Cornerback Mike Hughes handled punt returns in 2019, although his injuries might have coaches rethinking that. Wide receiver Chad Beebe is also an option and new candidates likely will arrive in the draft. The Vikings need growth in nearly every special teams phase. During Marwan Maalouf’s first season as special teams coordinator, they were average in coverage and return phases. Main coverage contributors in safety Jayron Kearse and linebacker Kentrell Brothers are no longer under contract.
LEVEL OF NEED
Low: The Vikings will not draft a long snapper, kicker or punter as they have in half of the drafts since 2012. While the coverage and return phases need help, reinforcements will come from the receivers, defensive backs and linebackers selected this weekend. Perhaps an early Vikings pick can also return punts.