Speedy Vikings Weapon Saw His Value Skyrocket This Offseason

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The OTAs, or Organized Team Activities, are the first period of the new season when all players, rookies, newly signed, and returning players, are on the field at the same time. One major exception is wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who does not participate as he is still waiting for a new contract. He had the same approach last year and skipped the voluntary workouts.

Speedy Vikings Weapon Saw His Value Skyrocket This Offseason

Speedy Vikings Weapon Saw His Value Skyrocket
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The other players, including the rookies, reported. Special teams coordinator Matt Daniels met some new faces for his crew. Three new specialists have been acquired in the offseason, as kicker Greg Joseph was not retained, and punter Ryan Wright hasn’t particularly lived up to his successful rookie season and will hold competition against Seth Vernon. Draft pick Will Reichard and free agent addition John Parker Romo battle for the open kicking gig.

Return man Kene Nwangwu has remained a staple as one of the most dynamic returners since arriving in the NFL in 2021. There will be fundamentally new kickoff rules for the first time, and how they affect the players remains to be seen. Some guys might not be as valuable on special teams anymore because their skill set doesn’t fit the team’s needs, while others can suddenly thrive under new conditions.

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Matt Daniels

Daniels, however, is convinced that Nwangwu is much more impactful with the new rules in place. At Tuesday’s presser, he was asked about the 2022 second-team All-Pro and how dangerous he can be with the adjustments.

Huge, that’s the other aspect of (the new rules). The value of a returner now skyrockets. The value of a returner significantly increases, so you want to have a plethora of those guys who you can trust to do it, who can be dangerous with the ball in their hands.

Matt Daniels

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, and surely a good time to refill a drink or grab some snacks. 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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That is why some speculated that Nwangwu might not make the team in 2024 because his value outside of kick returns is close to zero, and if he doesn’t return kicks, there’s no reason to keep him around. He has only logged 27 carries for 88 yards and six catches for 30 yards.

In nine games in 2023 (he missed some time with a nagging back injury), Nwangwu returned only 15 kicks. His average yards per return dipped, but the sample size was too small to gain much information about his performance.

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.

There will be some competition in training camp, and Daniels has emphasized the need for multiple capable returners. Still, Nwangwu should be expected to remain the top guy on the depth chart. The numbers from the XFL (the league that tested the new kickoff rules) show that his workload could increase from roughly one return per game to four.

The special teams ace is 26 years old and should have more touches in the upcoming season.

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