It’s All Eyes on QB Kellen Mond, but THIS is the Vikings draft pick who could have the biggest impact in 2021…
With Vikings minicamps scheduled to begin this week we’re about to get our first, second-hand look at some of the new Minnesota Vikings rookie draft picks and undrafted free agents. For the past week it’s been full on hype train as we all did our best to deep dive and get to know what some of these players might bring to the table.
You’ve heard a lot from the Kellen Mond hype-train, a group of people that is eerily reminiscent of the anti-Kirk Cousins grouping. And it makes sense. Mond is basically everything that Kirk Cousins is not when it comes to quarterbacking attributes. But he is still completely unproven at the NFL level and was a third round pick for a reason. Still, get excited about what Mond might develop into. If it works out, that’s a win-win for all involved, all except Kirk I guess.
But I digress…
You’ve heard about Mond, you’ve deep-dived on the first round pick Darrisaw, you were jacked to see that Wyatt Davis was still available for the Vikings at pick #86, you even broke down the undrafted punter and the second Zylstra to dawn the purple in recent history.
But you probably glanced past the fourth round selection of Kene Nwangwu a running back out of Iowa State.
It was probably easy to do, I mean we have Dalvin Cook in the backfield, Alexander Mattison filling in accordingly behind him and then they just signed Ameer Abdullah to a one-year deal to add a change of pace to the mix. I mean, Nwangwu wasn’t even a starter at Iowa State in four years playing and he didn’t find the end zone until his senior year? Why would we give him a second thought?
Well here’s the rub. I’d argue that you should give him more than a second thought and I might even go as far as saying that Nwangwu might be the most impactful Vikings rookie to join the team this year, yeah I said it.
Here’s the train of thought…
It’s extremely unlikely that Nwangwu will see much action as a running back in the regular season this year. He’ ain’t beating Dalvin Cook out and is unlikely to challenge Mattison as the backup. But Ameer Abdullah might have a bright red target on his back right now and that’s the slot where Kene could jump up and grab.
As a third string running back you’re seeing action in the backfield if an injury pops up. You’re there just in case, but your role is primarily on special teams, and that’s where Kene could shine for the Vikings.
If you’ve already forgotten how bad special teams were for the Minnesota Vikings across the board last year, let’s refresh your memory quickly thanks to an article posted by our friend Tim McNiff back in April before the draft.
Under the direction of first year Special Teams Coordinator Marwaan Malouf the Vikings in 2020:
• Finished 31st in Rick Gosselin’s annual review of NFL special teams play.
• Ranked dead last in punt return average at 4.3 yards per return.
• Ranked dead last in starting field position on BOTH offense and defense. Putting them at a huge disadvantage on both sides of the ball.
• Ranked dead last in overall field goal percentage at 68.18, the ONLY team below 70 percent in the NFL.• Punter Britton Colquitt ranked 31st in net punting average.
• Allowed the third-most punt return yards in the league.
• Place Kicker Dan Bailey missed 13 kicks, ten of which came in the last five games.
• Were one of only seven teams to allow a kickoff return TD, with former first-round draft choice Cordarrelle Patterson taking one to the house on MNF in Week 10.
• Rookie WR K.J. Osborn, drafted in the fifth round as a return specialist, was a major disappointment who eventually lost both the punt and kick return jobs.
Buzz, your girlfriend…WOOF!
Malouf’s contract was not renewed for the 2021 season, Ryan Ficken was elevated and the Vikings look to turn the page to a brighter future, that’s where Kene comes in.
Admittedly, Nwangwu won’t help much when it comes to field goal percentage or net punting average, but having a competent returner for both kickoffs and punts can help a team that already has a dynamic offense flip the script when it comes to starting field position and points per game.
Kene averaged 28.9 return yards on kickoffs last season for the Cyclones and brought a dynamic level of excitement to the return game in college. He’s got a good mix of vision and quickness that helps him remain elusive in the return game. An improvement in this area for the Vikings could easily lead to more points, flipping the field on opponents and generally giving the team an advantage in an area where they faced a disadvantage one year ago.
Look, we all hope that Darrisaw, Davis and the rest of the rookie crop come in and have a giant impact. But if there’s one spot on the field where the Vikings can make a drastic improvement, that most closely translates to the level of play in college, it’s the kick return game and Nwangwu has an opportunity to win that position and run away with it, bad intended, hopefully.
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