Has Kene Nwangwu Earned a Larger Role in the 2023 Vikings Offense?
The Minnesota Vikings appear determined to move on from Dalvin Cook at some point this offseason. That is going to be an unfortunate, but logical, band-aid to rip off. With Alexander Mattison as the starter, Kene Nwangwu may see more opportunities out of the backfield, but should he?
Over the course of his two-year NFL career, Nwanwgu has carried the rock just 22 times. After receiving 13 carries in 2021, he handled the football just nine times from the backfield last season. In part that can be attributed to the overall health of Dalvin Cook, who played in all games for the first time during his career, but also it may represent a reality of his skillset.
When at Iowa State in college, Nwangwu was never a starting running back for the Cyclones. His 61 carries as a senior were a high-water mark, but he never operated as a bell cow back. His size has often stopped him from being a traditional between-the-tackles runner.
Nwangwu did average 5.6 yards per carry as a senior for Iowa State, and he contributed four touchdowns, but his usage was hardly traditional. Nwangwu’s greatest asset has always been his speed, and the way he uses it in space to pair with his elusiveness is what makes him a true talent.
How does that fit for the Vikings in 2023? Well, it might not.
Alexander Mattison is going to be the primary runner, and he couldn’t represent a more drastically different skillset. Mattison can get behind the defense, but he’s also a bigger-bodied runner than can push for additional yardage. 2022 rookie Ty Chandler isn’t the same player, but he’s also not far off. Those two should be seen as the primary ball carriers in Kevin O’Connell’s offense going into the year.
Behind the top two options are both Nwangwu and then 2023 late-round pick DeWayne McBride. The UAB product was one of the top running backs in college football last year, and he too represents a greater running threat than Nwangwu. It would be surprising to see McBride serve in any significant capacity, but he could be called upon if either of the top two options miss time.
Nwangwu has been among the best kick returners since he entered the league, and there’s no denying he has earned a role there for good. He can translate that skillset to the offensive side of things by catching passes out of the backfield and getting into space, but it’s tough to see him excelling in a traditional running back role.
Maybe there is a chance Kene Nwangwu surprises and becomes more than he has been in college or at the NFL level, but it would be a drastic turn of events to see that happen. Kevin O’Connell will need to be creative in how he deploys his speedster this year, but now more than at any point during his career, opportunity is his for the taking.
We’ll soon see what the best of Kene Nwangwu looks like, and maybe we have already been shown that, but if it’s going to happen as a runner then now is as good of a time as any.
Ted Schwerzler is a blogger from the Twin Cities that is focused on all things Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Vikings. He’s active on Twitter and writes weekly for Twins Daily. As a former college athlete and avid sports fan, covering our pro teams with a passion has always seemed like such a natural outlet.