5'11" 191 lbs
21 years old
Imagine a running back room of Tony Pollard, Antonio Gibson, and Darrell Henderson. It is pretty impressive right? That is the Memphis Tigers running back room in 2018. With all three players now sustaining some level of success in the NFL, let's take a look at the 4th running back in that 2018 room. Kenneth Gainwell was the #4 player on the depth chart that season, a back-up in 2019, opted out in 2020, and is now the #5 best RB prospect in the 2021 draft. He may be the #5 RB prospects in this draft, but if you take away all the Power 5 RB prospects, he is the best overall RB prospect in this draft. I know my logic on that is crazy, but who wants to be normal? Let's break down the running back from Memphis.
Gainwell played in only four games in 2018, before he redshirted due to the crowded backfield. He ran for 91 yards and 1 TD. He also had 6 receptions for 51 yards. I am going to assume you are all thinking the same thing, this is not impressive. Remember, he was #4 on the depth chart and only played in 4 games. In 2019, Gainwell got promoted to the back-up RB role behind Gibson. He rushed the ball 235 times for 1,550 yards (12th in the country) and 13 TDs. He caught the ball 51 times for 610 yards and 6 TDs. In 2020, he opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft. He only provided one full season of stats to look at, but one and done players always work out right?
These are some pretty impressive stats for a player that only played one full season and had to share reps with a handful of star studded players. I am sure he started off playing RB from a young age, and was mentored from a young age at this position. Oh wait...he was recruited out of high school as a QB, and never played RB until college. Now stats are fun, but we need to start looking at his strengths and weaknesses in some film. What makes Gainwell so good?
The more running back film I watched, the more I see of running backs forcing their way through a hole that is not there or doing moves that are extremely unnecessary. I was super impressed with how simple Gainwell keeps it. He knows what he needs to do and where to go and will not get distracted with any of these fancy moves. So he plays very aware, but what else is he good at?
He always keeps his shoulders squared downfield when he runs. This gives him the ability to be a 3-way go player rather than a 2-way go. By keeping his shoulders squared downfield, he uses his vision to find the best opening in the line. For being undersized, he has a lot power. Once he gets past the first level and is into the open field, he is able to make cuts and spins so easily. These moves look so natural and smooth for him.
Let’s break down his run against Cincinnati in 2019. When he first gets the ball, he has the option to go left, right, or straight up the middle. All three are open options. This is where his ability to be a 3-way go running back shows. By keeping his shoulders squared he has the option of all three. He sees where the open hole is and makes his move. Once he gets to the second level, by keeping his shoulders squared, he is able to make the necessary cuts to get more yardage out of the play.
Gainwell would line up as a slot receiver for many snaps for Memphis or would go out for a pass from the RB position. He looks like a natural pass catcher. He clearly took his time as a QB to learn different routes and different trends/habits of a receiver. Once he catches the ball, his ball carrier skills come into play. When he becomes the ball carrier, we all know what happens.
In this play against Tulane, Gainwell lines up as a RB and then goes out for the pass. Once he starts his route, he keeps his shoulders squared and a good center of balance. Once he catches the ball he goes into his natural state of a ball carrier. Once he becomes the ball carrier he uses his elusiveness and quick feet to get through the defense.
The biggest area he needs to improve on in the NFL is his strength. He is 191 lbs, and he will need to bulk up once he makes it into the league. He may be very willing to lower his pads and go head to head with any defender, but in the NFL 191 lbs will not cut it. If he does not add more strength, he will never be used in goal line or short-yardage situations. His second weakness is his pass blocking ability. He is not strong in this area. He does a good job reading a defense when he is getting the ball, but once he is blocker, he does a poor job at losing defenders or blocking the wrong player.
In this play against Penn State, Gainwell gets fooled by the delayed blitz, and does not even think about blocking Micah Parsons on Penn State. He is usually so strong at reading a defense when he is the ball carrier, but when he is a blocker he really struggles. Once he makes it to the NFL he will need to learn to better read the defense and build up his strength to be able to successfully pass block.
My comparison player for Gainwell is D'Andre Swift from Detroit. Both have similar builds and both are double threat running backs. Both are very explosive running backs who also have the ability to go out for a pass and get more yardage out of a pass. If you want to compare them in their last year of college, Gainwell actually had more yards and TD then Swift. However, we need to compare their style of play. Swift is not a big guy, but he still has a lot of power when he is the ball carrier. Swift is also just as good as a slot receiver as he is a RB.
Best landing spot:
When I think about the best landing spot for him, there are a couple directions you can go with this. I can be biased and say the Eagles should draft him, but if they do that I will drive to the Nova Care Center and start demanding Howie Roseman gets fired. I can see the Jets drafting him, but I do feel he needs to be paired with another RB simply because his strength is not there. So therefore, I feel his best landing spot is the Denver Broncos.
Denver has a lot of areas they need to improve, and RB is probably not high on their list, but a running back duo of Melvin Gordon and Kenneth Gainwell could be a very destructive duo for defenses. With Phillip Lindsay’s impending free agency move on the horizon, Denver could look to Gainwell as a possible replacement for him. Gordon is that strong tough RB that will be able to get those short and goal line plays, and follow that up with Gainwell’s elusiveness and screen catching ability. I expect Gainwell to be picked in the 2nd or 3rd round, and if Denver has the opportunity to draft him, I would hop on the Gainwell train.