Vikings

Is Kene Nwangwu Primed To Take Ameer Abdullah's Roster Spot?

Credit: Brad Rempel (USA TODAY Sports)

It seems like Ameer Abdullah has been on the brink of being cut for the last couple of years, yet he continually finds a way to stay on the Minnesota Vikings’ roster. He’s been the closest thing the Vikings have to a current version of Marcus Sherels, performing a minimal role just good enough to warrant a roster spot. Abdullah has been utilized as a third-down running back and has been surprisingly efficient in that role, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

Abdullah is also a threat in the passing game. He’s a good route runner, and in his two full years with the Detroit Lions he had 50 receptions and never averaged less than 6.5 yards per reception. For some reason, whether it be due to fewer snaps or a conservative offensive scheme, the Vikings do not use Abdullah as much in the passing game. Instead, they use him on third-and-long draw plays that take advantage of his quickness when opposing defenses expect a pass. But don’t be fooled, Abdullah has latent versatility that the Vikings are underutilizing.

Abdullah has also served as the team’s primary kick returner since 2018. However, he hasn’t been very productive, averaging 24.6 yards per return with no return touchdowns since arriving in Minnesota. On the surface, it appears that Abdullah has issues with ball security. After all, he has nine career fumbles, and some scouts have criticized his propensity for turning the ball over going back to college. However, it should be noted that Abdullah has only fumbled the ball once during his time with the Vikings. His improvement with ball security can be traced back to his work ethic, which he has been praised for throughout his career.

But with every training camp comes roster overhaul, and not in a way that will benefit Abdullah. This year the Vikings have put an emphasis on drafting players who have experience returning the ball, like wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. However, he’s not threatening Abdullah’s job in the same way as someone who plays the same position would.

That’s where Kene Nwangwu comes in.

Even though Nwangwu and Abdullah are competing for the same role, they are not necessarily the same kind of players. The Vikings drafted Nwanwu in the fourth round because of his outstanding athletic profile. Outside of his weight (210 lbs.), he’s solid across the board. Hand size and wingspan don’t matter too much for running backs, so he excels in everything he needs to from a physical standpoint. His closest comparison athletically? Chris Johnson, who held the NFL Combine’s 40-yard dash record for nearly a decade. Nwangwu scored in the 98th percentile in the 40-yard dash; Johnson, of course, scored in the 99th percentile.

To further contextualize just how insanely gifted an athlete Nwangwu is, he finished with above-average marks on the bench press, broad jump, and vertical jump. It’s really not an understatement to say this guy is the complete package athletically.

Oftentimes, you’ll see some freak athletes drafted in the mid-rounds who slide because of character issues. I’m happy to report that Kene does not fall into that category. Nwangwu is known to be a high-character individual by scouts and coaches, which is one of the similarities he shares with Abdullah.

So if Kene Nwangwu is as talented as I say he is, then is it a sure thing that he’ll take Abdullah’s spot?

Not quite.

Despite how exciting Nwangwu is as a prospect, he still has a lot to learn. His post-snap vision is lacking, for starters, and he doesn’t have a great feel for where run lanes are. He also struggles with indecisiveness, which tends to cause him to lose yardage, especially on stretch plays. Finally, the area that will cause him the most stress early in his career is his lack of route-running ability. That may end up preventing him from getting the snaps he needs to learn more complex routes, and more importantly, improve his overall feel for the game.

If, by chance, Nwangwu absolutely exceeds expectations and is ready to play from Day 1, there would still be a good chance Abdullah makes the roster anyways. The fact is, he still offers value as a change-of-pace runner, a receiver, a special teamer, and a locker room leader for a young Vikings RB room. If you don’t believe that, the Vikings historically like keeping four running backs and a fullback on the roster. So unless you think Jake Bargas will make the team over Abdullah, there’s no reason to think that the Vikings will get rid of him so soon.

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