Vikings Cut Backup RB, Activate NFL’s Fastest Rookie

Kene Nwangwu

Courtesy of Vikings Kene Nwangwu

The Minnesota Vikings running back room is nearing full health.

The team activated fourth-round rookie running back Kene Nwangwu from the injured reserve list on Tuesday, October 19. Nwangwu has been on the injured reserve list since suffering a knee injury in the team’s preseason opener.

The Vikings cut veteran running back and return man Ameer Abdullah to make room for Nwangwu.

Abdullah has been a satellite of the organization, being cut and re-signed several times, and could be signed to the practice squad if he clears waivers.

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Fastest Rookie Running Back

The Vikings splurged on in their fourth-round selection of Nwangwu. A projected seventh-round pick, the Iowa State product never had lead back duties for the Cyclones behind now-Chicago Bears starting running back David Montgomery and 2020’s FBS leader in rushing yards Breece Hall.

What made Nwangwu the fifth running back taken off the board so early was his athleticism, which earned him recognition as a hidden gem in the draft. He scored the second-highest relative athletic score of any running back since 2013 — trailing only Saquon Barkley.

The fastest running back in the 2021 NFL draft class, Nwangwu used his speed to become one of the best kick returners in college football. Standing 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, Nwangwu ran a 4.32 40-time at his pro day and clocked an unofficial 4.29 40-time. He finished as Iowa State’s all-time leading kick returner, averaging 26.8 yards per runback in his career.

“Actually, my fastest was a 4.25 in training. I went to Nashville to train at Boost Performance, and the hand timing got me at a 4.25,” Nwangwu said, via” “The speed part of my game, I think it’s just setting it up. II’m still working on that, being able to set up blocks with your speed, too. So like tempo-ing it down and being able to accelerate when you have the ability to.”

Nwangwu’s 4.25 40-time, if he had clocked it at his pro day, would have made him tied with Auburn and now-Cleveland Browns wide receiver Anthony Schwartz as the league’s fastest rookie, period. Regardless, he is a rarity as one of only a few 200-plus pound players who can clock a sub-4.30 40-time.

Nwangwu runs with power, and scouts took notice, likening him to San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert, Go Long’s Tyler Dunne reported, penning Nwangwu as the hidden gem of the 2021 NFL draft.

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Nwangwu Could Spark Life in Return Game

Nwangwu showed a knack for making big plays in crucial moments throughout his career at Iowa State.

The biggest play?

An 80-yard kickoff return moments after Oklahoma State took the lead over the Cyclones. The return set up a tying score and led to a 37-30 Iowa State victory — the first time the Cyclones beat the Sooners at home in 60 years.

There’s little tread on Nwangwu’s tires. He took just 143 carries for 774 yards in college. The son of Nigerian immigrants, he’s maintained a constant improvement mentality, regardless of his role on his team.

“When you have a grateful and thankful attitude,” Nwangwu told Dunne.” It’s not like you get frustrated because you’re not doing something. It’s like, ‘Dang. What do I need to do better to get to where I want to be?'”

Coming back from a knee injury he suffered in mid-August, Nwangwu could improve the Vikings return game, which currently ranks dead last in punt returns and 20th in kick returns, per Football Outsiders.

Nwangwu could make the Vikings look like geniuses for their fourth-round reach on him, which The Athletic ranked as the second-biggest reach of the draft.

“Nwangwu is the sleeper of the draft, the hidden gem bound to make the crucial play in the crucial moment. That’s what he did repeatedly at Iowa State and, with a creative coach, he’ll do it again in the pros. Because it’s also important to remember who exactly makes those plays on the game’s grandest stage — players nobody gave a damn about on draft weekend,” Dunne wrote.

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