Can Vikings RB Make an Impact in 2022?

Nov 28, 2021; Santa Clara, California, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (26) carries the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during the fourth quarter at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

When the Vikings drafted Kene Nwangwu, a running back, in the fourth round of the 2021 draft, most people were surprised. The team already had star runner Dalvin Cook and his backup Alexander Mattison. A mid-round pick is a big investment in a, at best, third back on the depth chart.

His superpower, however, isn’t running the football. It’s returning kickoffs. He was the only player in the 2021 season to return two kicks for a score, despite missing six games. On offense, Nwangwu only had 13 rushes for 61 yards and four catches for nine yards.

The running back had a bad start to his NFL career. He injured his knee in the preseason game against Broncos and subsequently missed the final two exhibitions. He missed the opportunity to showcase his talent, so fans of the purple team still don’t know what he brings to the table on the offensive side of the football. The speedster didn’t only miss the preseason games but also the first six games because the injury landed him on injured reserve.

Dec 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (26) in action against the Los Angeles Rams at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Now that he’s fully healthy and shown his insane speed on kick returns, it will be interesting to see how the Vikings will use the running back on offense in 2022. Kevin O’Connell, labeled as a ‘creative offensive mind,’ has the opportunity to use his 4.3 speed. The offense is expected to be more spread out, which means more wideouts should be on the field than in recent years. A running back has more space, and Nwangwu has the chance to use his speed.

His speed, to be exact, refers to a 4.32 40-yard dash at his pro day. Some scouts timed him at 4.28. The explosiveness is obvious when watching his kick return touchdown against the Ravens. He just moves differently than anyone else on the field.

In college, Nwangwu played running back. He was a backup for David Montgomery, who now plays for the Chicago Bears, and Breece Hall. The Jets just selected Hall in the second round.

Jan 2, 2021; Glendale, AZ, USA; Iowa State Cyclones running back Kene Nwangwu (3) runs the ball against the Oregon Ducks in the second half of the Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings running back reached his college career high in terms of rushing yards as a senior at Iowa State. He recorded 339 rushing yards and four scores. During his career, he managed to gain 744 rushing yards on 143 attempts. His 5.2 average yards per carry show his potential.

Nwangwu had a great run against the Bears in Week 15. He doesn’t have the agility of Cook, but his speed still makes him extremely hard to catch. His vision is also interesting to see in that play. He can make people miss, a big part of the repertoire of any running back, even if he isn’t as shifty as other backs.

Arif Hasan, who covers the Vikings for theAthletic.com, wrote about Nwangwu, “Kene Nwangwu and Dalvin Cook both looked lightning fast — faster than they looked in camp last year.”

Multiple reports from different people suggest Nwangwu’s emergence. The Vikings running back seems to be even quicker and faster prior to the 2022 season.

Nov 28, 2021; Santa Clara, California, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (26) leaves the field after a loss against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The ‘Voice of the Vikings,’ Paul Allen, talked a few weeks before training camp about a possible competition for the RB2 job.

Mattison would be prohibitively favored, but everything is new, so Alex doesn’t roll in and go like, ‘Oh I know that play. I know that. I know that. I love that.’ It’s all new and Kene’s fast. …If Kene can catch passes, then he can usurp Alexander.

Paul Allen, on the Vikings’ Pick 6 Mailbag

Nwangwu caught just seven passes in his college career and four in the NFL. It’s a big question mark at this point if he can catch the football out of the backfield.

It would be surprising to see Nwangwu as the Vikings’ primary backup for running back Dalvin Cook in 2022. However, his explosiveness could make a difference not just as a return specialist but also for O’Connell’s offense. He likely gets a lot of chances to show his worth in the preseason games. There is no need to even play Cook in any meaningless matchup. Mattison is a proven commodity but will probably get at least some work. The most touches should go to Nwangwu and rookie Ty Chandler to evaluate their potential. August 14th is the date of the Vikings’ first preseason game in Las Vegas against Derek Carr’s Raiders.


Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt