The Vikings continue to be one of the healthiest teams in the NFL. Wideout Blake Proehl and linebacker Ryan Connelly continue to be on the ‘Physical Unable to Perform List’ while Irv Smith recovers from thumb surgery. He’s currently the most prominent name with an injury.
For the second consecutive year, Smith is called the Vikings’ breakout star, and just like last year, he suffered an injury that requires surgery. His meniscus repair in 2021 was season-ending. The thumb surgery won’t be.
Unless there are setbacks, he’ll be back on the field for the season opener against the Packers on September 11th. In his absence, backups Johnny Mundt and Zach Davidson get more opportunities and seem to do a great job.
Another player needs opportunities, but Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu hasn’t practiced in almost a week because of a soft tissue injury. He returned on Saturday, and according to Craig Peters from Vikings.com, “Nwangwu looked fluid on runs and receptions out of the backfield.”
It’s a big offseason for the runner, mainly because of the attempt to secure more action in the offense. In his rookie campaign, the speedster was almost exclusively a special teams player. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, the only player during the 2021 season to accomplish that feature.
On offense, however, he was limited to 13 carries for 61 yards in the 11 games he played. A big problem was his injury. He missed the first six games due to a hyperextended knee. Nwangwu also didn’t play much in the preseason because of the injury. He did not record a carry.
The upcoming preseason begins on August 14th against the Raiders, and it will be a big opportunity to showcase his skills. Starter Dalvin Cook will probably not play in that game, and the team knows what Mattison can do. However, Nwangwu’s talent is still a mystery. His roster spot is safe because of his elite kick-returning ability.
Ty Chandler is another threat for his touches. Cook and Mattison will certainly get their carries, but Chandler, the sixth-round draft pick, could also steal some of his action on offense. Like Nwangwu, Chandler is extremely fast. But he is a more skilled runner, at least per his college career. He could also be an interesting option in the passing game.
In college, Nwangwu played running back for Iowa State. He was a backup for David Montgomery, who now plays for the Chicago Bears, and Breece Hall. The Jets just selected Hall in the second round.
The Vikings running back reached his college career high in terms of rushing yards as a senior at Iowa State. He recorded 339 rushing yards and four scores. During his career, he managed to gain 744 rushing yards on 143 attempts. His 5.2 average yards per carry show his potential.
Early reports from training camp suggest that Nwangwu looks even faster this year. His 4.3 speed is something Kevin O’Connell, the head coach and offensive mind, can use in his offense. At his pro day, he ran a 4.32 40-yard dash. Some even had his time measured at 4.28.
He lacks the agility of players like Cook, but his straight-line speed makes him dangerous. Nwangwu can score anytime he touches the ball, one bad angle by the safety, and he’s gone.
It would also be important if he can show his ability to catch the ball. In college, he just caught seven passes and four in the NFL. Versatility is essential for running backs nowadays in the league. There could be a role for him on offense in 2022, but the upcoming preseason games will be a big deal for him. The Vikings running back returned right in time to get ready for that game.
Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt