Proposed Rule Change Could Negatively Affect 1 Viking

Another Minor Injury Surfaces for Vikings
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In the interest of reducing concussions — a noble objective — the NFL is on its way to changing kickoff return rules.

The spirit of the proposed rule tweak is allowing any returner to call for a fair catch anywhere on the field (not just the endzone), and his team would get the ball on offense at their own 25-yardline.

Proposed Rule Change Could Negatively Affect 1 Viking

NFL Network‘s Ian Rapoport tweeted Tuesday, “The NFL has passed a new rule instituting all fair catches and touchbacks come out to the 25-yard line on kickoffs, source said. Now the same as the college rule, the thought is that this should make it safer, though special teams coaches around the league oppose the change.”

Have the Vikings Created a Running Back Factory?
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And if the rule-change passes — it probably will — one Vikings player could be adversely affected, kick returner and running back Kene Nwangwu. The theory goes like this: Nwangwu may not have the oomph to make the 53-man roster as a running back, but he’s one of the NFL’s most dangerous returners. However, if the Vikings sign up for ball-always-at-the-25, would Nwangwu command a roster spot? Probably not.

Moreover, Minnesota currently employs more quasi-big-name running backs than usual. Here’s the RB depth chart as of May 23rd:

  • RB1: Dalvin Cook
  • RB2: Alexander Mattison
  • RB3: Ty Chandler
  • RB4: DeWayne McBride
  • RB5: Kene Nwangwu
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The team doesn’t need five running backs heading into 2023, and some even believe Cook will be traded or released accordingly at the start of June. If the Vikings see the 25-yardline rule as a blessing that can truly nullify most special teams concussions, Nwangwu’s importance on the 2023 roster is unabashedly diminished.

Of course, head coach Kevin O’Connell could toss on his thinking camp and determine ways to put Nwangwu’s always-speed to use, pivoting away from the special teams-only assignment. But Vikings fans thought the team would do that last year, and Nwangwu was hardly utilized on offense.

Proposed Rule
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Minnesota scooped Nwangwu out of the 4th Round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and he’s returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in two years. Next to cornerback Kalon Barnes, the Iowa State alumnus is the fastest man on the franchise’s depth chart, and speed kills on kickoff returns.

In fact, his touchdown on Thanksgiving night versus the New England Patriots last year was a game-saver for Minnesota. The Vikings forced no turnovers against Bill Belichick’s team, curiously couldn’t stop quarterback Mac Jones — he looked like Tom Brady for a night — leaving Nwangwu’s heroics as the hinge that decided the game.

Too, the Vikings aren’t required to adopt the never-kick-return philosophy. They could simply ignore the rule and let Nwangwu run wild. Yet, in the interest of players’ safety, kickoff returns could be on the way out altogether, especially if the aforementioned rule change passes. Call it a slippery slope.

Nwangwu turned 25 in February.

If the rule change takes effect, the NFL is essentially saying goodbye to the thing Nwangwu does best.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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