EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings added a speedster in the draft when they took Kene Nwangwu with the 119th overall pick in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft last Friday.
Nwangwu, who played running back and returned kicks at Iowa State, was the first of three fourth-round picks by the Vikings this past Saturday.
Here are five things to know about the new Vikings running back.
1. Speed to burn
Many draft experts considered Nwangwu among the fastest players in the entire 2021 draft class.
Although he is listed at 210 pounds, Nwangwu was unofficially clocked at 4.29 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Iowa State's Pro Day in March. Some measured the time at 4.31 seconds, which was the time mentioned by General Manager Rick Spielman during a media session. Iowa State also recorded him with a 37-inch vertical jump and 22 reps on the 225-pound bench press.
But the running back said he clocked even faster in his pre-draft training.
"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. "The speed part of my game, I think it's just setting it up. I'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."
View photos of Iowa State RB Kene Nwangwu who was selected in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
2. Special-teams star
Nwangwu could provide a boost to a Vikings kick return unit that struggled at times in 2020.
He ranked third in the Big 12 and seventh nationally with an average at 28.9 yards per kickoff return in 2020 at Iowa State. He also recorded five returns of 30-plus yards, including two of 65 yards or longer.
Nwangu had one kickoff return for a score in his college career, averaging 26.8 yards per return on 92 total attempts. His 2,470 career kickoff yards is the most in school history and third all-time in Big 12 history.
He was a Second-Team All-Big 12 at kick returner in 2018, and was named Honorable Mention All-Big 12 at the same spot two other times in his college career. Nwangwu said he also was a gunner on the punt team.
3. He's got fresh legs
While Nwangwu did most of his work on special teams, he also chipped in as Iowa State's backup running back, too.
But he tallied just 143 carries in four seasons, meaning he didn't endure the wear and tear of a starting running back. Nwangwu made the most of his opportunities, however, averaging 5.2 yards per carry in his career.
He rushed for 744 career yards and four scores at Iowa State.
4. Emphasis on education
Nwangwu majored in mechanical engineering and was the 2020 Big 12 Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
He told the Twin Cities media after being selected that his parents, Jerome and Ogonna, made sure he focused on his education even while playing football.
"If you ask my mom, definitely the NFL would be a Plan B. They all came to America in their mid-20s, they came here [from Nigeria] to get a higher education," Nwangwu said. "My dad has business finance degrees. My mom went pre-med. She has a master's [degree] as a nurse practitioner.
"But for me, I always wanted to play football. I knew I wanted to be an engineer as well, and football can help you be an engineer," Nwangwu added. "I always wanted to be an NFL player and I knew I wanted to get my degree. For me, the NFL was my fallback."
5. A hidden gem?
Nwangwu's time at Iowa State was chronicled by longform writer Tyler Dunne in this piece from mid-April.
Dunne wrote that Nwangwu could surprise people in the NFL despite not having eye-popping offensive stats in college.
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. That's what he did repeatedly at Iowa State and, with a creative coach, he'll do it again in the pros.
The Vikings obviously liked what they saw in Nwangwu, who was the fifth running back taken in the draft despite being ranked as the 16th-best running back by draft expert Dane Brugler of The Athletic.