Marcus Sherels had his own rule.
It went like this: When you write the annual 53-man roster projection for the Minnesota Vikings, you begin with the starting quarterback and then write Marcus Sherels’ name. In pen.
Sherels chuckled when he was told about the rule on SKOR North Live.
“There’s 90 guys every year, you just go in and honestly take it one day at a time, you can’t start counting numbers or looking too far ahead, that will affect your play,” Sherels said. “Keep getting better, try not making the same mistake more than once, that’s what I’ve been trying to do and learning from veteran guys and helping younger guys.”
Sherels returned punts for the Vikings from 2011 until 2018. Next year he’ll be doing so for the New Orleans Saints, who signed the 31-year-old from Rochester, Minnesota this week.
The Vikings reportedly did not offer him a new contract, but make no mistake, he will be missed.
During his span in Minnesota, he returned 231 punts, took back five punts for touchdown, averaged 10.6 yards per return. Sherels added another 53 kick returns at a solid 25.5 yards per return.
He ranks 26th all-time in punt return yards, ahead of some of the best returners in NFL history in Dante Hall, Deoin Sanders and Josh Cribbs. In fact, his yards per punt return is better than Hall and Sanders and 0.1 yards per return behind Cribbs.
The most impressive stat of Sherels’ career might be the fact that he had only one lost fumble.
During a press conference last season, Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer explained that Sherels’ longevity started with ball security.
“He tracks the ball well, he catches the ball well, he catches the ball the same every time,” Priefer said. “These young returners, they’re baffled by how consistent he is in catching punts. It’s amazing. He gets squared almost every punt. His knee bend is perfect. His start is perfect. He has a phenomenal first step. All that plays in to him being successful, all those little fundamental things that people don’t understand or don’t talk about, Marcus has got it.”
Sherels always had competition for the gig. Two years ago, it was fifth-round pick receiver Rodney Adams. Last year it was first-rounder Mike Hughes. But during those sweaty July practices, nobody could match his consistency.
“It can be pretty tricky, especially when you’re outside with wind conditions and sometimes the sun is in your eyes and maybe a punt is shanked and it’s spinning a little bit differently than you practiced, but the reason I’ve taken pride in catching it every time is repetition,” Sherels said. “I try to get as many reps as possible. When I first came in the league Darius Reynaud, he seemed to never drop any. I watched him a lot and kind of learned. Over time I just became better and better and perfected my technique.”
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound returner had some moments for the Vikings.
In a 2012 playoff game he accumulated 85 yards between punt and kick returns. In 2013 he set the Vikings single-season record for return average with 15.2 yards per return. He set a team record that year against the Giants with 119 yards punt returning in a single game, highlighted by an 86-yard return. Sherels was named the Pro Football Focus returner of the year in 2014.
One of his most memorable returns came in the 2017 Minneapolis Miracle playoff game against the New Orleans Saints in which Sherels opened the game with a 19-yard return. Saints punter Thomas Morstead suffered a rib injury while tackling Sherels. Morstead kept punting through the pain and Vikings fans rewarded his effort by donating to his charity. The Saints’ punter returned the favor by donating more than $200,000 to Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
This week Morstead tweeted that Sherels was in attendance for his donation.
— Thomas Morstead (@thomasmorstead) March 21, 2019
While he is one of the better punt returners in NFL history, Sherels also played cornerback, nickel and safety in 2013.
“His value is that he can play a lot of different spots,” head coach Mike Zimmer said during camp last year. “He can play nickel, he can play corner, he can go in the dime. All those.”
Since the Vikings’ secondary is stacked with top draft picks, he didn’t see a ton of action in the defensive backfield recently — he played in two games in 2018 for a total of 29 snaps — but Sherels said he continued to prepare for every job he might be asked to do on Sundays.
“I split it up,” Sherels added. “One day I’ll do special teams and watch the punter. When I’m at gunner I watch the corners and the punt returner. Another day I’ll do defense. The coaches do a great job of keeping us prepared and giving ups DB tip sheets and all that stuff.”
Priefer pointed out that Sherels was also a quiet teacher for other special teamers, who are largely made up of young players.
“In pre-practice he’ll be back there talking to them,” Priefer said. “He’s another coach on the field on the practice field and he’s been tremendous helping with the gunners in the gunner’s meetings, talking to guys about kickoff as a safety in kickoff meetings, and talking punt returners and kickoff returners and everything in between.”
We don’t always think of the punt returner as a key cog in successful teams, but Sherels was a weapon for the Vikings over the past nine years and a player who repeatedly beat the odds to carve out a long NFL career. Not many people can say that.
“Everybody respects him so much for what he’s done in this league and who he is as a man,” Priefer said.