Speedy Viking Received Unforeseen Attention at Minicamp

Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (not shown) returns a kick for a touchdown against the New England Patriots during the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Do you believe Minnesota Vikings kick returner Kene Nwangwu’s role within the team could be minimized due to the NFL’s rule change on kickoff returns?

Think again.

Speedy Viking Received Unforeseen Attention at Minicamp

Nwangwu is embedded in the Vikings four-headed running back room, along with RB1 Alexander Mattison and youthful supportive options, Ty Chandler and DeWayne McBride. It is unclear as of June which ‘other’ halfback next to Mattison will receive secondary carries, but Nwangwu ‘looked the part’ at last week’s mandatory minicamp.

Speedy Viking Received
Jan 1, 2023; Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (26) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports.

CBS Sports reported via RotoWire, “Nwangwu was frequently was used alongside quarterback Kirk Cousins in 11-on-11 snaps during Wednesday’s minicamp workout.”

The 25-year-old is one of the fastest players on the Vikings active roster, only bested by cornerback Kalon Barnes.

Nov 13, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (26) returns a kickoff in the third quarter against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports.

“Nwangwu is a dynamic kickoff returner but will compete for a larger role as a running back after the release of Dalvin Cook. Nwangwu enters camp battling Ty Chandler and DeWayne McBride for snaps behind starter Alexander Mattison. It’s possible the backfield could be more of a committee, one in which Nwangwu’s speed could afford him a significant role,” CBS Sports concluded.

Vikings fans longed for Nwangwu’s inclusion in the team’s offense last year — because of, you guessed it, speed — but the wish was not granted. The Iowa State alumnus touched the ball 11 times on offense for 35 yards from scrimmage, not exactly a productive resume as a second-year speedster.

Have the Vikings Created a Running Back Factory?
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.

But that could change, especially as the Vikings have vowed to run the ball more in 2023. Minnesota ranked third least in rushing via playcalling percentage a season ago, creating a point of emphasis this offseason for change in September. Run-blocking tight end Josh Oliver joined the club in free agency, McBride was selected in Round 7 of April’s draft, and a handful of Vikings have mentioned running the rock more in interviews.

Minnesota scooped Nwangwu out of the 4th Round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and he’s returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in two years. His kick return 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.

Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (26) in action against the Dallas Cowboys during the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Nwangwu may not outright win the RB2 gig on the depth chart — it’s only June — but at least the table has been possibly set for an expanded offensive role.

Vikings training camp begins in about six weeks.

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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