Credit: NBC Sports
Now that the NFL Draft is over and the Eagles seem to be content with their roster heading into summer, we are rolling into the toughest months there are of being a football fan. With the sport going into its lowest point of the year, I will have you covered with player previews heading into the 2022 season, and today I'm starting this new series with none other than Kenneth Gainwell.
After being a fifth round pick in 2021, Gainwell broke onto the scene in his rookie campaign with 544 yards and 6 touchdowns on only 101 offensive touches. Coming out of Memphis as a rookie, Gainwell showed many that he was already the best receiving back on the Eagles, reeling in 33 catches on 50 targets for 253 yards. The most intriguing part is that Gainwell did this on only 232 passing snaps, which is a 21.5% target share. For reference, Saints star receiving back Alvin Kamara only had a target share of 21.2%. 232 passing snaps is a small sample size, but Gainwell has shown that he is one of the best receiving backs in the NFL when he is on the field. Additionally, he was one of only three running backs to have both a PFF receiving and pass-blocking grade of at least a 75. The former Memphis Tiger might be a smaller scat-back, but he is a third down weapon for the Eagles. Gainwell also proved to be very efficient in the redzone, as he ran for 47 yards and 5 touchdowns on 10 rushing attempts. With Miles Sanders struggled in the redzone, pass protection, protecting the rock, and handling a full workload, we could expect to see Gainwell spell Sanders on more occasions in 2022. But what exactly will Gainwell's role be in this new look Eagles offense?
Gainwell's Role in 2022
After the Eagles traded away Zach Ertz, we saw the Birds transition from a team that threw the ball 36.4 times a game in the first five weeks, to an offense that didn't throw the ball 35 times in a single game for the rest of the regular season. This was a combination of having a lack of sufficient receiving options after the Ertz trade, matched with the emergence of the best rushing attack in football. With the offseason additions of A.J. Brown and Zach Pascal, it is obvious that the Eagles want to transition into more of a passing offense, and this bodes well for Kenneth Gainwell. The more that the Eagles pass the ball in 2022, the more we will see the 5'9" back duo to his prowess in pass protection and as a safety blanket out of the backfield.
Credit: Courier Post
Something that I expect Nick Sirianni to use a lot of in 2022 is split back sets to keep the defense honest. Pushing the ball downfield with two back sets can be difficult, but the Eagles base personnel is three receivers and one back, allowing the split back set to keep the defense honest and giving them a different look that they have match. A defense would be forced to match this with more linebackers on the field to counter the run, but they would be giving up speed on the outside. The reason that this is so deadly is because Gainwell can motion outside or into the slot and be matched up 1-1 with a linebacker while the run is still a major threat with Sanders in the backfield. With two backs in the backfield, this will likely force a safety or slot corner to guard Dallas Goedert, and Sirianni could also get a matchup he likes with a team’s third linebacker on Gainwell in coverage. If Sirianni can consistently exploit this advantage, I expect him to use a lot of split back sets out of the Shotgun formation. Even as the lone back in the backfield, teams may try and get more speed on the field to cover the Eagles bevy of weapons on the outside, leaving Gainwell either with a light box to run through, or matched up against a defensive back or linebacker with a lot of space to work over the middle.
Kenneth Gainwell will never be the back to get 300+ offensive touches, as he is only 5'9" 200 lb. But Gainwell is an extremely intriguing weapon that provides a lot of unique mismatches out of the backfield for Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts to exploit. If the Eagles transition into a passing offense with the new additions to the receiving room, Kenneth Gainwell could be a big beneficiary.