The 2021 NFL Draft has come and gone within a matter of seconds, and most fans have already turned their attention to the 2022 class led by sophomore sensation Sam Howell. However, today I will be taking a deep dive into the Eagles 2021 draft class, and I'll be looking at my favorite pick during the third day of the draft.
With the 150th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Eagles took the explosive duel-threat running back out of Memphis, Kenneth Gainwell. Gainwell broke onto the scene in 2019 with over 1,400 yards rushing and 600 receiving yards. Gainwell also added on another 13 touchdowns on the ground and 3 through the air. Many scouts and analysts considered Gainwell a day two lock, so where did it all go wrong for Gainwell? Well, he decided to opt out of the 2020 College Football season and prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft. Scouts hadn't had the chance to watch Gainwell play in the 2020 College Football season as they were unable to watch tape from multiple seasons, leading to his draft stock plummeting to the fifth round.
During Gainwell's freshman season, he was in a crowded backfield behind three future NFL Draft picks in Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard, and Antonio Gibson. Henderson and Pollard headed to the NFL after the 2018 season, and Gainwell became the bell-cow, beating out Gibson for the role. In Gainwell's lone collegiate season, he showed off his explosive home run hitting ability in the run game, along with his spectacular route running and receiving skills, and solidity in pass protection. Gainwell's biggest weakness is by far his size in pass protection, but in this clip, Gainwell number 19, lined up in the bottom right of the screen, lays out Cowboys first round pick Micah Parsons before releasing upfield.
Gainwell is an already flourished route runner for a one year back in college, and he showed this with his ability to run an expanded route-tree. Gainwell has had the most success running back-shoulder comebacks and wheel routes, along with short outs and curls from the backfield. In the first clip, Gainwell is lined up out wide at the top of the screen, and he makes an amazing adjustment on the back-shoulder throw, then he just lets his athletic ability takeover with the run after catch (RAC). In the second clip, Gainwell is lined up at the bottom of the screen out wide, and he runs a simple back-shoulder. Gainwell sells the go route, and he sinks his hips on the stem, creating a wide open throwing lane and base to set his feet, and he makes an amazing grab and turns it upfield for a touchdown. And in this third clip, he gets the defender on his heels, sinks his hips on the stem yet again, and makes an amazing diving grab on the sideline.
Most backs in college succeed as a receiver in manufactured touches out of the backfield, but Gainwell has shown he is comfortable with all the routes he is asked to run, which is very rare for a college back. Gainwell is already fluid in and out of his breaks, and he has amazing hands for a back. In 2019, Memphis's head coach Mike Norvell said that Gainwell would probably be the team’s best wide receiver if he was converted to that position, which is high praise for a team that already featured Antonio Gibson and Damonte Coxie. Gainwell not only succeeds in the receiving game, but he is someone that is spectacular when getting the ball out in space with check downs in the flat, which are an extension of the run game. Gainwell uses his elusiveness and change of direction, along with his low center of gravity power to break tackles at an extremely high rate.
Gainwell possesses the receiving skills and blocking potential to be a three down back, but he is no slouch in the running game. He averaged 6.3 yards per pop in 2019, and Gainwell has shown the ability to run through the tackles, which is an essential trait for the NFL. In the first clip, Gainwell makes a jump cut and explodes through the hole, then he breaks two tackles on his way to the end zone. And in the second clip, Gainwell makes another jump cut, and spins a defender before falling forward for a solid gain.
Gainwell's Role in Philly
Eagles rookie head coach, Nick Sirianni, has had a history of using multiple backs, and he loves backs with polished receiving skills. The Eagles new offensive coordinator, Shane Steichen, was in Los Angeles with star receiving back Austin Ekeler, who was a key piece to the Chargers offense. Sirianni and Steichen are bringing an offense to Philly that will utilize backs in all facets of the game, as Sirianni has stated multiple times he wants to move his players all over the field, and Gainwell can line up in the backfield, out wide, and in the slot. I expect Gainwell to be the ultimate gadget weapon out of the backfield, and he may already be the best receiving back on the team. It will be interesting to see the role that Gainwell carves out in Sirianni's offense, but he definitely has all the traits to be a star three-down back at the professional level.