Kenny Gainwell shot onto the college football scene as a redshirt freshman at Memphis in 2019 and took the AAC by storm, but with just one season of real college football under his belt, the Philadelphia Eagles have seen enough to select him with the No. 150 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
The former Tiger has an extremely limited college football history to work with. He opted out of the 2020 campaign after a few family members passed away due to COVID-19. Still, he did enough in his lone season as a major contributor to get looks from NFL teams. In 2019, he toted the rock 231 times and amassed 1459 yards on the ground and hit paydirt 13 times. He can be used out of the backfield in the passing attack too, which Memphis loved to do. He caught 51 passes that season for over 600 yards and three more scores.
Gainwell doesn’t have a ton of film to go off of, but what he does have is extremely impressive. In all of 2019, there was just a single game where Gainwell failed to eclipse 100 all-purpose yards. He’s a smaller back, standing at 5-foot-8, which could be a concern when making runs up the middle against the size of NFL DTs.
He’s an extremely patient runner and can wait for his line to make a hole for him. When there isn’t a big gap for him to shoot through, he’s usually able to make the first or second defender miss to get positive yards out of a broken play. When a hole is in front of him, his burst isn’t the best, but he has quick feet and can change direction on a dime, making it difficult for defenders to get a hold of him.
Fantasy football impact
Gainwell isn’t projected to be an opening day starter anywhere. Instead, he’s shown a ton of raw ability in such a short time in high-level football. He’ll need more time to develop his talents on the field, but he likely won’t be anything more than a serviceable backup in his first season in the pros. It won’t be easy for him to get touches playing behind Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Jordan Howard, so Year 1 will likely be a wash.
He’s hoping to follow the blueprint of another Memphis Tigers: Tony Pollard or Antonio Gibson. Gainwell probably has a higher ceiling than both of those backs, who have been successful in their short NFL careers, but he’ll just need more time to develop that skillset over the first year or so of his career due to limited reps in-game action. Sanders, 24, is Gainwell’s biggest threat. The Penn State product is a versatile back that seems likely to get most of the work moving forward. If Sanders leaves once his rookie contract is up, Gainwell’s value could skyrocket.