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Updated: April 27th, 2011 3:13pm
Vikings by position, Day 9: Help on returns could come in late rounds

Vikings by position, Day 9: Help on returns could come in late rounds

by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com
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Editor's note: Each weekday from April 18 until the NFL Draft begins on Thursday, Tom Pelissero has broken down the Minnesota Vikings' roster by position, based on observations of games and practice, weekly tape studies and interviews with NFL coaches and scouts.

Day 9

Specialists.

On the roster (2)

P Chris Kluwe, LS Cullen Loeffler.

Unsigned (1)

PK Ryan Longwell.

Breakdown

Few players stand to benefit more from the NFL's adjusted kickoff rules than Longwell (6-foot, 200 pounds), whose 93.5% (43-for-46) conversion rate on field goals over the past two seasons is the NFL's best. At 36, Longwell seemed destined for a timeshare on his next contract, as the Vikings tried to put him in by signing kickoff specialist Rhys Lloyd last offseason. Instead, advancing kickoffs to the 35-yard line should give Longwell the opportunity to keep handling all duties for the foreseeable future and making around -- if not more than -- the $2 million a year he got on a five-year deal from the Vikings in March 2006. He's just too accurate to let go until there's obvious depreciation. Kluwe (6-4, 215) is a bargain at $1.23 million in salary and bonuses after finishing 10th last season in net punting average (career-high 38.9) and ranking among the league leaders in punts downed (17, tied for second), fair catches (22, tied for fifth) and punts inside the 20-yard line (32, fifth). He also rescued three poor snaps by Loeffler (6-5, 241), who hasn't missed a game in his seven seasons and is entering a contract year at age 30. Coach Leslie Frazier strongly hinted in March that Percy Harvin -- who has a 25.5-yard average and three touchdowns on 82 kick returns in two seasons -- will cede the primary role this season, perhaps to Lorenzo Booker. The rules change is bound to limit the impact of that position anyway. Sure-handed Greg Camarillo was the primary punt returner (9.2 average on 39 chances) in 2010 but doesn't bring much juice to the role. Jaymar Johnson, who spent all of last season on injured reserve with a broken thumb, is sure to get a look in camp.

Draft outlook

It would be a surprise for the Vikings to use a draft pick on a specialist. They've been connected to several experienced return men, though, and could look to add one in the late rounds -- if not sooner, depending how much that player also could contribute on offense or defense.

Last 10 drafts

• 2010: None.
• 2009: None.
• 2008: None.
• 2007: None.
• 2006: None.
• 2005: None.
• 2004: None.
• 2003: Punter Eddie Johnson (sixth round, 180th overall).
• 2002: None.
• 2001: None.

Linked in

The Vikings have not had any known workouts or visits with specialists. However, they have been linked to at least five return candidates -- conducting private workouts with Stanford cornerback Richard Sherman and Nebraska receiver Niles Paul and hosting visits with South Carolina cornerback Chris Culliver, Abilene Christian receiver Edmund Gates and Troy receiver Jerrel Jernigan.

High fives

Mel Kiper, ESPN: Kickers -- 1. Alex Henery, Nebraska. 2. Kai Forbath, UCLA. 3. Dan Bailey, Oklahoma State. 4. Josh Jasper, LSU. 5. Jake Rodgers, Cincinnati. Punters -- 1. Ryan Donahue, Iowa. 2. Reid Forrest, Washington State. 3. Derek Epperson, Baylor. 4. Trevor Hankins, Arizona State. 5. Chas Henry, Florida.

Mike Mayock, NFL Network: Not available.

Shawn Zobel, DraftHeadquarters.com: Kickers -- 1. Henery. 2. Forbath. 3. Jasper. 4. Thomas Weber, Arizona State. 5. Bailey. Punters -- 1. Henry. 2. Donahue. 3. Forrest. 4. Epperson. 5. Matt Bosher, Miami (Fla.).

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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