The list of pre-draft New England Patriots contacts includes a running back with intriguing kick return potential.
Iowa State’s Kene Nwangwu recently met virtually with the Patriots, according to a report this week from Justin Melo of The Draft Network.
Nwangwu wasn’t a standout contributor on offense for the Cyclones — 143 carries, 774 yards, four touchdowns with seven catches for 57 yards across 50 collegiate appearances — but was a weapon in the return game. Over four seasons at Iowa State, he returned 92 kicks for 2,470 yards and one score, setting a school record with a yards-per-return average of 26.9.
Kick returners aren’t as valuable in the modern NFL, but the Patriots haven’t had a true go-to guy in that spot since All-Pro Cordarrelle Patterson left after the 2018 season. Gunner Olszewski, Donte Moncrief, J.J. Taylor and Kyle Dugger split kick return duties in 2020.
Nwangwu did see more offensive opportunities as a senior last season, averaging 5.6 yards per carry on 61 attempts with four touchdowns while playing behind FBS rushing leader Breece Hall. He also had an excellent showing at Iowa State’s pro day, running a 4.31-second 40-yard dash with a 38-inch vertical, 125-inch broad jump, 6.83-second three-cone drill, 4.25-second short shuttle and 22 bench press reps at 6 feet, 210 pounds.
That 40 time would have ranked third among all players at last year’s NFL Scouting Combine and first among running backs. The last back to match it at the combine was Keith Marshall in 2016. Nwangwu’s three-cone would have been the best by a running back at the combine since Chase Edmonds in 2018.
The Athletic’s Dane Brugler projects Nwangwu as a sixth- or seventh-round pick, writing that he “must develop his patience, block recognition and receiving skills to warrant a spot on offense, but his home run speed and return skills could be his ticket to sticking on an NFL roster.”
The Patriots currently have running backs Damien Harris, Sony Michel, James White, Brandon Bolden and Taylor under contract for the upcoming season, with White on a one-year deal and Michel potentially entering the final year of his rookie contract if the Patriots do not exercise his fifth-year option.