As fantasy football managers continue to fire off waiver wire claims in Week 14, players with new opportunities can provide value and inject upside into a fantasy roster. One such player on a team dealing with injuries is rookie Kene Nwangwu of the Minnesota Vikings. A special-teams ace with a fantastic athletic profile, can Nwangwu expand on his role in the offense? Or would a waiver wire claim in Week 14 be a pointless endeavor once the backfield is at full strength?
Kene Nwangwu is no longer an unknown player
Outside of diehard Iowa State/Minnesota Vikings fans or those in deep dynasty leagues, it’s unlikely you were familiar with Nwangwu. And I get it — when you play behind Breece Hall in college, it’s hard to get noticed. Yet the Vikings did take notice when they selected Nwangwu with the No. 119 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. When you look at his measurables, it’s clear as to why.
At the Iowa State Pro Day, in front of representatives from 28 NFL teams, Nwangwu came in and burned the place down. The 6’0″, 210-pound senior from Frisco, Texas, laid down a blistering unofficial time of 4.29 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That would have been good enough for 10th all-time at the Combine. Additionally, he ran the three-cone drill in 6.75 seconds and recorded a 37-inch vertical.
During the 2020 season, Nwangwu averaged 28.9 yards per return, good for seventh in the nation. He also recorded 5 returns of 30-plus yards, including 2 of 65 yards or longer. As a running back, Nwangwu has fresh legs, having rushed just 143 times in his college career. He’s was efficient with those carries, rushing for 744 yards with 4 touchdowns.
And we have seen his athleticism on full display this season, primarily on special teams. However, in Week 13, Nwangwu was in line for not just kick return duties but actual work out of the backfield. Unfortunately, rather than booming, he went off like a dud sparkler on the Fourth of July.
Nwangwu saw little involvement in likely his best chance at fantasy relevancy in 2021
Although the Vikings entered Sunday with only two running backs, Nwangwu didn’t come close to interfering with Alexander Mattison’s workload. Nwangwu played on just 10 of the Vikings’ 76 offensive snaps in their surprising loss to the Detroit Lions. He rushed 2 times for zero yards while catching 2 of 3 targets for 4 yards. Oof, that’s not ideal, especially compared to Mattison’s 124 yards and a TD.
Without a doubt, Mattison was going to be the bell cow. I was just hoping to at least see what Nwangwu could do in the NFL in his first real action against a middle-of-the-road run defense in the Lions (No. 14 vs. RBs in fantasy).
I can’t help but wonder if Nwangwu’s illness affected him slightly. After a full week of practice, he was a surprise addition to the injury report with an illness on Saturday. Only Mike Zimmer and the team know whether or not the game plan needed to be tweaked. But it didn’t seem to impact the game plan too much, as Mattison’s workload was right on par with his two previous games this season when Dalvin Cook was out.
The question is whether or not this was the last chance — at least in 2021 — for Nwangwu to receive much-needed in-game reps, as all eyes are on the health of Cook and his hopefully speedy return.
Dalvin Cook was a limited participant in Tuesday’s practice
Well, talk about a bit of a surprise. According to the team’s practice report, Cook was a limited participant for practice on Tuesday. On Monday, he was listed as a non-participant for the team’s estimated walkthrough.
This was Cook’s first action since he suffered a dislocated left shoulder in Minnesota’s Week 12 loss to the 49ers. Initial reporting from Adam Schefter of ESPN stated Cook was expected to remain out until the team’s Week 15 matchup against the Bears, which might still be the case.
Minnesota plays on Thursday Night Football in a matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, taking three full days away from Cook and his recovery time. Wednesday’s practice report will be extremely telling as to whether or not he will be active. But given Mattison’s success, the Vikings could opt for a safe approach.
Is Nwangwu worth a fantasy waiver wire claim in Week 14?
As much as I would love to say yes, as he was one of my favorite under-the-radar players of the 2021 draft class, I don’t see much of a path for Nwangwu — at least, not to the point of being fantasy-relevant. Barring an injury to Mattison along with Cook, Nwangwu won’t be viable.
This is the time of year where I usually flood my teams with backup RBs — guys like Sony Michel, Marlon Mack, Devontae Booker, Khalil Herbert, Samaje Perine, or even Ronald Jones. I don’t plan on starting any of them, but if something happens to the RB ahead of them, those running backs have an instant path to touches. All of a sudden, you could have a league-winner on your hands.
If you want to treat Nwangwu the same way, I get it. With that said, I would not use a waiver claim on him. Instead, add him once waivers run. He’ll likely still be available, so acquire him for free and don’t spend any precious FAAB or use your waiver claim priority. Just know that none of this will matter once Cook comes back because, well, he’s Dalvin Cook.