Speedy Vikings Playmaker Saved by NFL Rule Change

Kene Nwangwu is one of the players deadlocked in the Vikings roster battles during OTAs this summer.
Kene Nwangwu is one of the players deadlocked in the Vikings roster battles during OTAs this summer. Photo by Minnesota Vikings.

A crazy time in the NFL’s calendar, some call it cutdown day, is still roughly five months away, but it is fair to wonder about the future of some players. Is Lewis Cine still safe because of his first-round label, or is he in jeopardy? When a rookie arrives, what happens to the three quarterbacks, especially Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall?

Speedy Vikings Playmaker Saved by NFL Rule Change

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There are always some surprise cuts, but nobody would have been shocked if running back Kene Nwangwu was axed after training camp. The kick return specialist has barely impacted the offense, and with the decreasing influence of the kick return, there’s not much reason to keep him. Ty Chandler, or many other players, can call fair catch in the endzone without costing a roster spot.

But those thoughts might have disappeared now that the NFL has approved the new kickoff rules. For years, the league has devalued the kickoff game, changing touchback spots and removing the headstart for the players in coverage. The result? It was merely a ceremonious act, a waste of time for most fans in the stadium and on TV. The kicker kicked the ball either out of the endzone or the returner simply called a fair catch. Regardless, the next offensive play would start at the 25-yard line.

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In the name of player safety, the once-exciting special teams play dwindled further and further to the point where it suddenly became a fair question whether the NFL should just eliminate the kickoff. Well, not so fast, said the league. After closely monitoring the XFL’s kickoff rules, the league adopted the more fun but still safe approach.

All players, besides the kicker and the returner, line up across from each other, but they can’t move until the ball is caught and the returner does his thing.

There will no longer be the option of a fair catch, and the ball will be moved to the 30-yard line if a touchback occurs. That should result in much more kick-return attempts, as the following numbers tweeted by Mike Clay show.

If Nwangwu is suddenly asked to return the ball four times per game instead of only once, he is a much more important team member, and his value increases drastically.

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Once a dangerous return man, Nwnagwu didn’t show his explosiveness much last season. In his first two campaigns, Nwangwu took a combined three kicks to the house. His touchdown versus the New England Patriots on Thanksgiving changed the day for Minnesota as they couldn’t create any turnovers, and Ed Donatell’s group made Mac Jones look like Tom Brady returned from Tampa Bay.

With Aaron Jones and Chandler virtually secured a roster spot as the top two running backs, Nwnagwu was in jeopardy of losing his job if the return game continued to die. His 27 career carries for 88 yards and the six catches for 30 yards certainly didn’t earn him a slot.

The 26-year-old should be the favorite to return the first kickoff in the 2024 campaign.

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