Undrafted rookie running back A.J. Rose Jr. was the lone bright spot of the Minnesota Vikings‘ abysmal 33-6 preseason loss to the Denver Broncos on August 14.
After fourth-round rookie Kene Nwangwu hyperextended his knee on the game’s opening kickoff, Rose Jr. assumed a bell-cow role in the offense. He took 25 carries 100 yards and caught a pass for 18 yards, earning respect among fans and pundits alike. He was the first player to rush for 100 or more yards in a Vikings preseason game in nearly seven years.
However, Rose’s performance may not be enough to warrant a roster spot.
The Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson reported Nwangwu is likely to miss the rest of the preseason but should be ready for the regular-season opener on September 12, per sources. Tomasson’s sources have given Nwangwu a vote of confidence in making the final 53-man roster despite his expected absence the rest of the month.
“Nwangwu, a fourth-round pick out of Iowa State, is in a good position to make the 53-man roster, which must be set by Aug. 31,” Tomasson wrote. “The Vikings could keep as many as four running backs. Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison will be two of them and Ameer Abdullah also could get a spot.
“A.J. Rose remains a long shot to make the roster despite carrying 25 times for 100 yards against the Broncos.”
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Nwangwu’s Special Teams Edge
Boasting world-class speed, Nwangwu, who has been an active participant since rookie minicamps in May, has the edge over Rose as a special teams weapon.
Nwangwu scored the second-highest relative athletic score of any running back since 2013, behind only Saquan Barkley. Standing 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Nwangwu ran a 4.31 40-time at his pro day and clocked an unofficial 4.29 40-time that same day. He’s said he ran a 4.25-second 40 during offseason training in Nashville.
Nwangwu finished his college career as the all-time leading kick returner at Iowa State, averaging 26.8 yards per runback.
This season he’s a prime candidate to take on kick returning duties as the fourth running back on the roster behind Dalvin Cook, Alexander Mattison and Ameer Abdullah.
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Rose Still Has a Chance
While Rose may be the odd-man-out of the running back room, he could still be signed to the 16-man practice squad roster after roster cuts on August 31.
Rose rushed for nearly 2,000 yards in his four years at Kentucky. He averaged 5.9 yards a carry and 6.2 yards per attempt his senior year. Rose lacks a change of pace to his game but showed patience and vision throughout the Vikings’ preseason opener.
“I didn’t see the 25 carries coming,” Rose said during his August 14 postgame press conference. “I just knew I was going to play sometime, but the opportunity presented itself and that helped me make the most of it. I believe that I made plays out there when my number was called.”
After going undrafted, Rose was signed as a priority rookie free agent, receiving $35,000 in guarantees on his rookie minimum deal. Rose showed his worth against the Broncos and the Vikings need a practice squad back who can thrive their zone running scheme.
“I was definitely a guy that just needed an opportunity like (Saturday) to just show what I could do,” Rose said. “(Zimmer) made that happen for me, and I made the most of my opportunity. Drafted or undrafted, my play speaks for itself.”