One Viking’s Job Got Safer on Tuesday

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The NFL became really bold this week — some items were good, others were not per player sentiment — with rule changes.

One Viking’s Job Got Safer on Tuesday

For example, the midseason trade deadline was moved back one week to November 5th. Defensive players can no longer utilize “hip-drop” tackles. And the league will embrace the XFL’s kick return rule.

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NFL Network‘s Tom Pelissero tweeted Tuesday about the seismic kick return change, “Kicking off a new era: Owners just approved the NFL Hybrid Kickoff rule, per source. After years of tweaks turned one of the game’s most exciting moments into a ‘dead, ceremonial play,’ the league hopes this overhaul will yield what it wants: fewer injuries and more returns.”

And for one Minnesota Vikings player, the change is wonderful news. That’s Kene Nwangwu, a running back and kick returner.

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Nwangwu’s role was actually minimized last year when players and teams were afforded the option to take the football at the 25-yardline, no matter what, with a fair catch signal. Fast forward to 2024, and the script has flipped for Nwangwu — in a good way.

For context, this is how the new kick returns will look:

Had the NFL kept the kick-return rule as is — kick returns were basically dying — Nwangwu could’ve been a roster-cut candidate later this summer. The rule change thickens the plot, in theory, and his job should be safer on Tuesday than it was on Monday.

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Why? Well, Nwangwu is a speed merchant and dynamic kick returner. He’s one of the fastest players in the sport. Vikings faithful have longed for Nwangwu’s inclusion in the team’s offense for the last two years because of his speed, but the wish was not granted. The Iowa State alumnus touched the ball 33 times on offense for 88 yards from scrimmage in his career, not exactly a productive resume for a player with three seasons in the books.

Minnesota scooped Nwangwu out of the 4th Round of the 2021 NFL Draft, and he’s returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in three years. His kick return touchdown on Thanksgiving night versus the New England Patriots in 2022 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 seesaw that swung the game.

This is the Vikings’ RB room as of March 25th:

RB1: Aaron Jones
RB2: Ty Chandler
RB3: Kene Nwangwu
RB4: DeWayne McBride
RB5: Myles Gaskin

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Without the kick-return modification, Nwangwu may have stared at a roster bubble in August. That feels less likely now.

Nwangwu turned 26 last month.

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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