Despite having their fair share of struggles on both offense and defense, the Minnesota Vikings have been excellent on special teams in recent seasons. Kicker Blair Walsh and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson have received most of the glory for the team’s special teams excellence, but punt returner and cornerback Marcus Sherels has certainly been an important contributor to the Vikings’ special teams success as well.
Since joining the Vikings as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Minnesota in 2010, Sherels has been one of the most effective punt returners in the NFL. While his name may not ring a bell to most fans outside of Minnesota, Sherels’ impressive statistics as a punt returner speak for themselves. Sherels has returned 87 punts for the Vikings since 2011, recording two touchdowns and a 10.3 yards-per-return average. He had his best season as a return man in 2013, when he returned 22 punts for a total of 335 yards, which included an 86-yard touchdown in Week 7 against the New York Giants.
While the vast majority of Sherels’ NFL impact has come as a punt return specialist, he has also seen time as a cornerback. Possessing impressive 4.37 40-yard dash speed, running with opposing pass catchers has not been an issue. Standing at 5-foot-9 and weighing a petite 175 pounds, Sherels has had trouble gaining positioning on receivers when the ball is thrown in his direction.
Despite being distinctly undersized, leading to trouble against the NFC North’s tall, athletic wide receivers, Sherels was quietly one of the Vikings’ more successful cornerbacks in 2013. This may not be saying much, as the Vikings’ secondary was downright dreadful last season, but it does give Sherels some credibility on defense moving forward.
The Vikings made a number of improvements to address their secondary during the offseason, bringing in former Carolina Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and Derek Cox, who spent last season with the San Diego Chargers via free agency, as well as drafting defensive backs Antone Exum, Jabari Price and Kendall James. Sherels will compete for playing time over the summer with these five defensive backs along with Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson.
Given his lateral quickness, agility and small stature, Sherels will most likely have the best opportunity to earn playing time behind Munnerlyn as a slot cornerback. During OTAs, however, Sherels received work in the Vikings’ first-team nickel package, playing left cornerback while Munnerlyn shifted inside into the slot.
With very little upside as a cornerback and a surplus of young talent itching to make an impact on their new team, it is highly unlikely that Sherels will receive much playing time on defense with the Vikings this season. In fact, it still remains a possibility that Sherels could be cut from the Vikings altogether, as he barely made the 53-man roster coming out of training camp last season.
While Sherels has been everything the Vikings could have asked for and more as a punt returner, his lack of potential as a cornerback may make him expendable. If another player, such as wide receiver Jarius Wright, emerges as a capable option at punt returner, Sherels may find himself without a team come September.
Given his success as a member of the Vikings’ highly successful special teams group, expect for Sherels to make the team as a punt returner, at least to begin the season. However, it should not come as a surprise if Sherels does in fact become a casualty of a young, rebuilding Vikings team.