Vikings turn to rookie kicker Carlson
EAGAN, Minn. — Daniel Carlson’s career-best field goal at Auburn was 56 yards. His confidence range indoors reaches 65. During pre-draft training in the high altitude of his home state Colorado, he said, even a 75-yard kick was makeable.
The Minnesota Vikings were so enamored with that strong leg they used a fifth-round pick on the 6-foot-5, 213-pound Carlson, a bold enough move to suggest he’ll be the place kicker this season and not incumbent Kai Forbath.
No matter how big of a boom Carlson delivers on the ball, though, what matters the most is how accurate he can be from those less-impressive and more-critical distances. The shorter kicks that the Vikings have seen missed too many times over the past five years.
“I’m a 6-foot-5 kicker, which is pretty rare. That does help having those long levers to hopefully get a couple touchbacks and some longer kicks here and there,” Carlson said. “But at the end of the day it’s the kicks inside of 50 that really are going to make or break a season or make or break you.”
The Vikings re-signed Forbath in March. In 25 games since he replaced the struggling Blair Walsh, Forbath has missed eight extra points. He also pulled a couple of 39-yard field goals wide in 2017. Though he came through down the stretch with several important makes, including three field goals in the playoff game win over New Orleans, Forbath clearly didn’t gain the full trust of the coaching staff and front office.
“The whole objective right now at this point is to create the most competitive 90-man roster that you can, regardless of position,” general manager Rick Spielman said last weekend after making Carlson the 167th overall selection.
When the Vikings drafted Walsh in the sixth round in 2012, they released reliable incumbent Ryan Longwell the day after the rookie minicamp was complete. The same scenario played out in 2013 with punter Jeff Locke, a fifth-round pick, and his outspoken predecessor, Chris Kluwe. For now, the Vikings have said they’ll keep the competition open. Still, a fifth-rounder is a high price for a specialist.
“Kai’s done really good this spring,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “So we’re just going to let them go out there and kick.”
Carlson made all 198 extra points he attempted in college, albeit from 20 yards and not 33 yards, to set an SEC record. He went 92 for 114 on field goals. Factor in a strong performance at the Senior Bowl in January, and the Vikings were interested. They sent special teams coordinator Mike Priefer to Auburn for one of five private workouts Carlson conducted after the scouting combine, and Carlson and Priefer immediately hit it off.
Carlson was one of the eight draftees among 66 players assembled by the Vikings for workouts this weekend, including 31 players invited on a tryout basis.
The 17 college free agents signed earlier this week included cornerback Holton Hill from Texas and linebacker Hercules Mata’afa of Washington State, considered two of the top undrafted players. Among the unsigned prospects aiming to follow the lead of Marcus Sherels in 2010 and Adam Thielen in 2013, as tryout players who earned a contract after the rookie minicamp and eventually made the team, are safety Mackenro Alexander of Iowa State, the twin brother of Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander; Northern Illinois wide receiver Chad Beebe, the son of former Buffalo Bills standout Don Beebe; and quarterback Matt Linehan from Idaho, the son of former Vikings and current Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
None of these players, even first-round cornerback Mike Hughes, carry the potential to impact the Vikings in 2018 as much as Carlson.
“I knew what I was coming into, and I’m excited to get to work,” said Carlson, a three-time Lou Groza Award finalist and the SEC special teams player of the year for the last two seasons. “Hopefully, I’ll prove to these coaches and the rest of this team that I deserve to be here.”
Make those high-pressure kicks, and they’ll quickly develop that respect.
“You kind of figure it out with a little maturity and handling those big moments,” Carlson said, “but I think as a kicker that’s what we’re supposed to live for.”