Santa Clara, Calif. – Vikings rookie Ken Nwangwu became the first NFL player to score on two kickoff returns in a season since 2015, when he narrowed a 49-yard lead to 31-26 in the middle of the third quarter on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. For 99 yards. ,
The Iowa State alum is the fastest player since 1970 to score two touchdowns on kickoff, a feat achieved in five games, according to the Vikings. He has made two kickoff returns out of eight this season. Through Sunday afternoon’s game, only four other NFL players have returned kickoffs for touchdowns this season.
“He’s a dynamic player. He’s fast, he’s got that vision, he’s doing great. In practice. He’s been the same way, just explodes every time he touches the ball,” said the Minnesota K. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson said. “He’s a dynamic back and we’re definitely glad we have him.”
Former Vikings receiver Cordarell Patterson was the last NFL player with two kickoff returns in a season (2015). Nwangwu joins Patterson and Percy Harvin as the only Vikings player with multiple kickoff returns for touchdowns in a season. Patterson (2013) and Harvin (2009) took seven games to return two kickoffs as rookies, and each earned Associated Press All-Pro praise.
With the running back, Dalvin Cook lost to a shoulder injury late in the third quarter, Nwangwu could see more time in the backfield behind Alexander Mattison. Nwangwu took a lead of seven yards in his lone carry on Sunday, his second of the season. Coach Mike Zimmer said Cook would have an MRI test on Monday.
In four seasons at Iowa State, Nwangwu ran for 744 yards, and made a kickoff return as a freshman.
“I think there’s a chance he might get some more playing time,” Zimmer said. “He’s still a young guy, and we got him back as a kickoff returner and backup, but he’s done a good job at some of these situations to get the ball back.”
Minnesota entered the game and finished 11th, running an average of 119.2 yards per game. On Sunday he was placed 67 yards on 18 carries. When Cook left the game, he had run for 39 yards. The 30-yard run by Cook in Minnesota was just one run over 10 yards.
The Vikings next visit Detroit, ranked 28th in the run defense, allowing 133.9 yards per game. Cook missed the Vikings’ 19-17 win over Detroit on October 10, when Mattison covered a career-high 113 yards.
On his touchdown on Sunday, Nwangwu raced to the center of kickoff coverage, picking up major blocks from Mattison and CJ Haim. He ran through an handed tackle from safety Zakisky Tart and juked kicker Mitch Wishnowski before streaking for the final 65 yards.
His first kickoff return, a 98-yard run to start the second half against Baltimore on November 7, put Minnesota up 14 points in the final overtime loss. On Sunday, the 49ers responded with a field goal to lead the game’s final score, 34-26.
For the season, Nwangwu ranks first in the NFL among players with five or more returns averaging 41.3 yards.