Kene Nwangwu Gets His Chance

Jun 9, 2021; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (26) catches a pass in drills at OTA at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

I wrote a few weeks ago, “Are we on the brink of seeing Kene Nwangwu?” It wasn’t quite the brink. We had another four weeks to wait.

Now though, we literally are on the verge of seeing the rookie running back. With the latest Minnesota Vikings news coming from special teams coordinator Ryan Ficken, there was confirmation Nwangwu will take over kick return duties from the recently departed Ameer Abdullah.

Abdullah did a solid but unspectacular job as a returner in Minnesota. It was a position that required an upgrade. Free-agent signee Dede Westbrook has done a solid job as a punt returner, but there have been no spectacular returns. The Vikings front office moved to bring in two rookies with explosive playmaking potential and returning pedigree from college in this year’s draft. 

A preseason injury saw Kene Nwangwu start the season on injured reserve, leaving Ihmir Smith-Marsette to start the year as the Vikings kick returner. A toe injury has seen Smith-Marsette on the sidelines, and Abdullah took over. With Nwangwu ready to go, Abdullah was released, and Nwangwu got the vote of confidence to come in and take the kick return job in his first eligible game.

With Dede Westbrook on the injury report and a non-participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday due to an ankle injury, there may also be an opening at punt returner. Nwangwu and Smith-Marsette have both been fielding return duties in practice this week as Dede Westbrook watched on.

I talked previously about his elite speed and 40-time of 4.29 seconds. That can bring explosive plays in the return game, but can the Vikings harness it on offense? Letting Ameer Abdullah go means Nwangwu is the team’s RB3. Abdullah’s role on offense was never significant, but he did get touches. The same should be likely for Nwangwu, especially with the injury history of the Vikings two senior backs. The opportunity to move up the depth chart, even if just for a game or two, doesn’t seem improbable.

Rounding out the running back room with Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison makes for an exciting trio. There’s a lot of weapons on the Vikings offense. Utilizing someone with Nwangwu’s level of speed will only serve to make it more dangerous.

I’m not advocating we go out there and continually feed him the ball. That’s not going to happen. A subtle jet sweep here and a screen pass there, maybe even the occasional handoff — just an occasional play worked in to surprise the opposition with the potential of it being explosive.

If you can’t tell, I’m excited to see Nwangwu play. He can add something different to this offense, which is already very good and capable of explosive plays. It can become even more dangerous if they use Nwangwu the right way.

What better way to showcase what he can do than on Sunday Night Football? Against a top team in the Dallas Cowboys, with the whole world watching no less.