The return of Nwangu may sound like the title of the next Star Wars movie, but I am talking about the return of Kene Nwangwu (ken-ay wahn-goo) to the Minnesota Vikings active roster. After watching footage of Nwangwu’s career at Iowa State, it is clear that he has speed that should translate well to the NFL. Unfortunately, he got injured so soon in his pro career, but Vikings fans have something to look forward to when he gets back to action.
Nwangwu might not see the field a lot on offense since the Vikings already have Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, but he could be a good change-of-pace back on third downs and could be counted on to give those guys a breather if needed. However, I believe that his most immediate impact will be felt on special teams, especially as a kick returner. He has good vision and knows how to set up his blocks well.
As a running back, his collegiate statistics are pretty pedestrian. He only had 744 rushing yards in 48 games. He’s 6’1” and weighs around 210 lbs., so he’s not a small back. His official 40-yard dash time clocked in at 4.31 seconds during Iowa State’s Pro Day in March of this year. He also had a 37-inch vertical jump and 22 reps on the 225 lb. bench press.
Minnesota released Ameer Abdullah to open up the spot on the roster, and if Nwangwu lives up to his potential, he will essentially be a better version of Abdullah. Nwangwu is a superior athlete. He had a quicker 40-yard dash time and a superior vertical jump, although he put up fewer reps on the bench press.
Nwangwu was considered to be among the fastest players in the entire 2021 draft class. He ranked third in the Big 12 and seventh nationally, with an average of just under 29 yards per kickoff return in Ames last year. He had five returns of more than 30 yards at Iowa State, including two that were 65 yards or longer. Nwangwu only had one kickoff return for a score, but after watching his film, it is easy to see that he could have taken many more returns to the end zone if he had one or two more blocks.
He leads Iowa State with 2,470 all-time career kick-return yards and is third all-time in the Big 12. Nwangwu only had 143 carries throughout his four years in college, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He finished his collegiate career with 744 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
The NFL would be a Plan B, according to his mom, Ogonna. His family came to America for higher education, and he majored in mechanical engineering on his way to becoming the 2020 Big 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Tyler Dunne called Nwangwu a hidden gem in a piece he wrote back in mid-April. “So let’s go again and declare it: Kene Nwangwu is the sleeper of the draft, the hidden gem bound to make the crucial play in the crucial moment,” he wrote. “That’s what he did repeatedly at Iowa State and, with a creative coach, he’ll do it again in the pros.”
Klint Kubiak’s play-calling might not be the most creative or innovative, but it has been effective thus far this season. Kirk Cousins has looked like the quarterback the Vikings originally paid $84 million to get, and Dalvin Cook is still an impact player when healthy.
It will be exciting to see what the addition of Nwangwu will do to the running game. However, it seems like anyone who has talked about him believes that his more immediate impact will be on special teams.
Unfortunately, we did not get to see Nwangwu do much before he got injured this preseason. Abdullah filled a role for the Vikings over these last few seasons, but Nwangwu has the potential to bring more explosiveness and speed. We’re talking about the kind of speed that has been severely lacking from Vikings’ kick returners since Cordarrelle Patterson left them to sign with the Oakland Raiders in 2017. If he is healthy and back to his college form, the Vikings have a special-teams weapon their opponents will have to account for.