The Minnesota Vikings will soon complete their overhaul of specialists.
A unit that, as of two years ago, featured Cullen Loeffler, Blair Walsh and Jeff Locke will now be represented by long snapper Kevin McDermott, (probably) placekicker Kai Forbath and a punter to be determined.
The punting candidates are likely in place after Monday’s announcement that the Vikings have signed journeyman punter Ryan Quigley, who will presumably compete with 24-year-old Taylor Symmank, an undrafted punter that is two years removed from a career at Texas Tech.
Quigley, 27, has spent time with three NFL organizations, most notably punting for three seasons with the New York Jets from 2013-15. He began his career with the Chicago Bears and most recently filled in for six games with the Arizona Cardinals.
In Quigley, the Vikings are not getting a high-end punter, but he may be able to fulfill Mike Priefer’s strategy of sacrificing distance for hang time and reducing return chances. The Boston College grad had his best season in 2014 with the Jets when he compiled a net average of 39.9 yards, 13th best in the league. In his three other seasons, he finished no higher than 23rd.
While neither Quigley nor Locke have booming legs, Locke separates himself from Quigley with better accuracy inside the 20, greater ability to reduce returns (perhaps thanks to good gunning tandems) and a general upward trend in performance compared to Quigley’s recent decline.
To unpack that a bit further, Locke averaged one punt inside the 20 per 2.9 career attempts; Quigley’s ratio sits at 1:3.1. Locke has never allowed a season-long return average of 10 yards or higher; Quigley has in three years out of four. Locke is coming off one of his best seasons in terms of touchbacks, return chances and net average, while Quigley set a career-low in average distance for the second consecutive year despite playing four of his six games in climate-controlled University of Phoenix Stadium.
Essentially, there’s a reason Quigley didn’t last in New York or Arizona. Nonetheless, he’ll be given a shot in Minnesota and punter-friendly U.S. Bank Stadium.
The wild card in the conversation will be Symmank, who worked out with the Vikings in the spring of 2016 but was not invited to training camp.
Symmank had net averages of 36.9, 39.9 and 38.1 in college, posted a 1:3 ratio for punts inside the 20 and allowed just 7.7 yards per return for his career. His average distance spiked from 42.6 to 46.0 his senior year, which likely caught the eye of NFL scouts.
With Quigley, the Vikings know what they’ll be getting. With Symmank, there is a higher upside. While neither option is particularly inspiring, Priefer’s conservatism in the punting game should alleviate the duress on whoever wins the battle.