A Non-Dalvin Cook Move the Vikings Could Make in the RB Room

Kick Returns
Aug 27, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (26) during the second half against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a ton of buzz this offseason regarding the possibility that Minnesota could move on from veteran RB Dalvin Cook. It makes sense considering his production in 2022 wasn’t quite as high as we’ve been used to along with his $14.1 million cap hit for this year.

However, what if the Vikings also make a non-Dalvin Cook related move in their RB room, parting ways with another player from the group? Currently, there are five players in the Vikings RB room: Cook, Alexander Mattison, Ty Chandler, Kene Nwangwu, and DeWayne McBride.

We’ve discussed ad nauseum the possibility of Cook leaving while Mattison was re-signed this March, presumably as his replacement. Chandler has an intriguing skillset that could make him the favorite to be Mattison’s backup while McBride was a seventh-round pick this spring, meaning Minnesota sees something in him and likely will keep him around.

If the Vikings run into a situation where they need to move on from another running back to get the roster down to 53 players, perhaps that leaves Kene Nwangwu as odd man out right now. Let’s take a look at why.

A Non-Dalvin Cook Move the Vikings Could Make in the RB Room
Dec 26, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Firstly, Nwangwu isn’t a Kwesi Adofo-Mensah draft pick, and in his first year on the job, the Vikings GM made a major effort to purge the roster of recent Rick Spielman draft picks that hadn’t already established themselves as major contributors to the team. This lack of draft loyalty potentially makes the 2021 fourth-round pick easier to part ways with than a Chandler or McBride.

On top of that, we haven’t seen Nwangwu take on much of a role in the Vikings offense over his first two seasons. Since entering the league, Nwangwu has played in 28 games, accruing just 22 carries for 75 yards and 6 receptions for 30 yards.

Questions Answered: Kene Nwangwu Health, Kicker Empowerment, Booth or Evans?
Nov 21, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Even back to his collegiate days at Iowa, Nwangwu never had more than 64 touches in a single season for the offense. His senior year of 2020 was by far his most impactful season, and even then he totaled just 61 carries for 339 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also caught 3 passes for 22 yards. Prior to that 2020 season, he totaled less than 200 yards from scrimmage in each of his other three collegiate years.

The one area where Nwangwu has made an impact for Minnesota has been as a return man. During his first two years in the NFL, the kick returner has returned 53 kicks for 1499 yards and 3 kick return touchdowns. The 3 TDs are more than any other return man in the league since 2021.

Certainly, Nwangwu has proven to be a very capable return man in the NFL, but is it worth keeping a player around solely to fulfill that role? Perhaps the Vikings would be able to fill the void with another player on the roster.

Jun 9, 2021; Minnesota Vikings running back Kene Nwangwu (26) catches a pass in drills at OTA at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Free agent acquisition Brandon Powell has a history of being a capable return man, taking 57 kicks for 1199 yards as well as 49 punts for 470 yards over the course of his career. It can’t be overlooked, either, that Chandler returned kicks for Tennessee and North Carolina with 38 returns for 850 yards and a touchdown.

In all, moving on from Nwangwu may offer the Vikings an extra roster spot, but that is about it at this point. Minnesota wouldn’t save much cap space considering the running back is on a fourth-round contract, and it would cost them their explosive return man. However, with all the players on the roster that have kick return experience, the move cannot be ruled out if the Vikings find themselves splitting hairs to get down to 53 players.

Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.