The Philadelphia Eagles selected Kenny Gainwell with pick No. 150 in the 2021 NFL Draft. In order to learn more about the Memphis running back, I reached out to SB Nation’s college blog that includes AAC coverage: Underdog Dynasty. The jovial Joe Broback was kind enough to answer my questions.
1) Can you recap his college career?
Gainwell sat behind two of the better backs Memphis has seen in Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor his freshman year. In 2019, Henderson turned pro and Taylor went down with an injury. In stepped Gainwell, who exploded from the minute he got the starting job. Mike Norvell put him in the spotlight with his abilities as a runner and a pass-catcher, and he quickly became one of the most dynamic players in college football. In 2020, he sat out due to COVID concerns, which limit the film he was able to put out for teams to watch. In 2019, he rushed for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns, but also caught 51 passes for 610 yards and three touchdowns.
2) What are his strengths?
Versatility is the biggest one. He can run in the trenches, but can also line up out wide and act as a wide receiver. He’s an explosive player who can make a sudden cut to open the field up and gash an opposing defense, and he keeps his pads square to bounce off of tacklers coming from different angles. His balance allows him to make one move after another thanks to quick footwork, and that got him out of a ton of tight jams in 2019.
3) What are his weaknesses?
The biggest one is inexperience. While he dominated in 2019, it was his only full year of experience. Teams weren’t completely sure what they were getting when they watched him, though that shouldn’t be a huge concern going forward. He’ll need to find a way to avoid contact more, as he takes a ton of hits for a guy that isn’t built to withstand that type of play. Throw that on top of the fact that he’s not the most powerful runner, and a power run game isn’t something he should focus on.
4) Are you surprised where he was drafted? Higher or lower than expected? Just right?
I thought he should have been drafted much higher. With the unique skill set he brings to the NFL, I thought teams would be lining up to draft him. His pass-catching abilities make him special, and I thought that would push him into Day 2.
5) How do you see his NFL career playing out?
If he learns to avoid so much contact, he’ll be in the league for a long time. His agility and playmaking in the open field can make him one of the most dangerous players in the NFL. He can be a matchup nightmare for any defense, and finding a way to be a three-down back remains the biggest goal.
6) Anything to know about him off the field?
He lost four family members to COVID, which a lot of people still don’t know. He wanted to play for Memphis last year, but the pandemic hit too close to home for him to risk it. Gainwell also chose Memphis over rival Ole Miss to play college ball.
BLG’s take: Gainwell should make for a nice addition to the Eagles’ running back rotation. There’s thought he could be Nick Sirianni’s Philly version of Nyheim Hines. For perspective, Hines averages 4.7 rushing attempts per game and 3.5 receptions per game. I don’t imagine Gainwell will see those numbers right out of the gate; he’ll have to make the most out of limited opportunities to earn more playing time.