Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman likes to draft specialists. Last year, Georgia kicker Blair Walsh made him look like a genius after drafting the Bulldog in the sixth round.
This year he made an even more surprising selection taking UCLA punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round with the 155th overall pick. He becomes only the fifth punter drafted in franchise history. The last was Eddie Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2003.
Of the four previous punters selected, only Neil Clabo, taken in the 10th round of the 1975 draft lasted more than one year—he played three seasons with the Vikings.
Locke was a four-year starter as punter for the Bruins and averaged 44.2 yards per punt. He was also the Bruins' kickoff specialist and ended his career with the highest touchback percentage in college football. The man he may end up replacing is also from UCLA. From 2001 to 2004, Chris Kluwe averaged 43.0 yards per punt.
Locke has a strong leg. As a junior, he was given the opportunity to convert some long-distance field goals for UCLA. He converted six of nine field goals, with a long of 51 yards. Of course, with Walsh, who was 10-for-10 from greater than 50 yards, there will be no need to call upon him to score any points for the Vikings.
Rob Rang from CBSSports.com, believes Locke is a legitimate NFL player. He possesses superior leg strength not only as a punter but on the kickoff. In his four years, he had 55 touchbacks. Rang compares Locke to Bryan Anger, who the Jaguars selected in the third round last year.
Locke was Invited to participate as a member of the North roster for the Senior Bowl. He averaged 45 yards per punt, with a long of 53 yards, while dropping two punts inside the 20-yard line.
There's no doubt that Spielman has every intention of replacing Kluwe, and didn't want to take any chances of not getting the left-footed punter who NFL Draft Scout had as the top-ranked punter in the draft.
This pick would have been even better if the Vikings had been able to address positions of greater need. They still need a middle linebacker and should look for more depth at wide receiver and defensive end.
Obviously, Locke is a lock to make the roster—otherwise the Vikings would not have selected him as high as they did, as a position that most did not see as a need.
Here's hoping he makes Spielman look as brilliant as Walsh made him look last year.