For baseball fans, the idea of a utility player is a common notion. It’ll usually come in the form of someone a manager stashes as one of the last players on the roster who can play many positions, giving the manager flexibility in other facets of the game.
The Minnesota Twins have had fan favorites such as Nick Punto, or more recently Willians Astudillo, take up this Swiss Army Knife role around the diamond. They are rarely the star player on their respective team, but they usually allow another player at a different position to serve a hole on the roster.
As crazy as it sounds, in a sort of Freaky Friday swap between baseball and football, this sort of player could be in the hands of Mike Zimmer and the Minnesota Vikings as soon as next season.
This was all made possible after Rick Spielman took a shot on Central Missouri TE/P Zach Davidson in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The idea of a tight end staying on the field for fourth down for a punt seems like a scene from a cheesy high school football show. But the truth is, Davidson was successful in both capacities for the Mules.
In three years as the team’s full-time punter, Davidson averaged 42.4 yards per punt, downing a total of 48 punts inside the 20. This was no fluke: 35% of his career punts were downed inside the 20. So either Central Missouri is the greatest punt coverage team of all time, or Davidson is legitimately a special talent as a punter.
Davidson’s work didn’t end there, though, as he developed into the team’s premier receiving threat. As a senior, he put up 15 touchdowns and 894 yards on 40 receptions. At 6’7″, he’s a big-play threat waiting to happen.
If all that’s not enough to impress, let’s toss into the mix the fact that he ran a 4.6 40-yard dash. Davidson’s background really sounds like a player you create in NCAA Football 14 with your buddies and recruit to your school for the pure entertainment value. In this instance, that’s not the case. Instead, the Vikings get a versatile athletic freak who can be plugged into multiple spots.
It really sounds too good to be true — so is it?
There’s really no way of knowing right now, but there are some valid concerns. First off, Davidson still has a lot of strides to make as a receiver. Yes, he had a very productive senior year, but he didn’t do much at all before that. Also, if you look at his tape, many of his touchdowns featured missed tackles or blown coverage. Not to mention he relied on his athleticism much more than technique, which may work at the D2 level, but that doesn’t mean it translates to the NFL.
As much as Spielman is trying to channel his inner Dr. Frankenstein and create a masterpiece, it could also end up a disaster.
With a player as unique as Davidson, you also have to analyze what the benefit of taking a multi-purpose player onto the roster is in the first place.
Seeing as Davidson has strides to make in the receiving department, he’d mainly be utilized as a punter to start. The Vikings already have Britton Colquitt on the roster, and although he did have two punts blocked last season, he averaged 45.1 yards per punt. That’s a 2.7-yard difference from Davidson’s average, and Colquitt did this in the NFL.
Colquitt will also be a 12-year veteran going into next season, which may seem trivial, but let’s not forget what happened last time the Vikings utilized a rookie special teams’ specialist.
If the Vikings did decide that Davidson was the better option as a punter, they could cut Colquitt. Assuming this happens post-June 1st, that would create roughly $1.7 million in dead cap this season and over $700,000 in 2022.
Those numbers wouldn’t be the end of the world, but every cent matters when there’s a tight cap.
It’s not all doom and gloom for Davidson super-fans, though, as there would be something to gain from all of this.
Slotting in Davidson as the team’s starting punter and third or fourth tight end would essentially open up another slot on the 53-man roster. Looking at Minnesota’s final cuts from last year, the group featured six players from the secondary. The Vikings then had the injury bug all season long in the unit, so it may have been nice to have an extra body in the secondary.
The experiment is certainly a give-and-take. It seems like there’s a fair amount stacking up against a utility player in the NFL, but that’s not to say there haven’t been success stories. The New Orleans Saints’ Taysom Hill has been featured as a jack-of-all-trades QB/TE/Special Teamer and is invaluable.
On the other hand, players like Babatunde Aiyegbusi and Moritz Böhringer were intriguing but couldn’t make the active roster.
Davidson is an interesting prospect, and his career could really go either way. Only time will tell if Spielman has finally struck on a diamond in the rough, or he’s destined to become part of Vikings lore like Aiyegbusi and Böhringer.