The Future 2021 NFL Draft Prospects: Kenneth Gainwell
Kenneth Gainwell, running back out of Memphis, opted out of 2020 after having an amazing 2019 season where he rushed for 1459 yards and 13 touchdowns on top of 610 receiving yards and 3 receiving touchdowns. He was heavily involved in the passing game, often lining up in the slot, and considering he only played a major role in one season as a redshirt freshman he did a very good job adjusting to the running back position after playing quarterback in high school. At 5'11, 191lbs he will need to put on some muscle to be able to handle a three-down workload, and hopefully, during this time of the 2020 season where he opted out, he was able to put on some muscle weight and get to 200+. Below I'll discuss his ability to create and his vision, his burst, how well he finished runs and gains yards after contact (YAC), how well he can play in the passing game, and how well he can pass protect and keep the ball secure.
Create/Vision- Gainwell is very good in the open field to make defenders miss and he played in a spread offense where defenses often played with lightboxes but his vision stands out with his ability to set up and find cut back lanes. His lateral quickness is fantastic as he can make great cuts that often embarrass defenders. He is best in space when he gets to the 2nd/3rd levels of the defense where he always finds green grass and has great spatial awareness. He shows a very good ability to be elusive and shifty in the open field that allows him to shake off tackles.
Burst- His burst and acceleration are very good to explode through holes. His straight-line speed is solid but there have been times where he is caught from behind when breaking long runs. He is more of a quick back who can accelerate fast and get from 0-60 quickly rather than a fast back who is going to outrun and separate from defenders. He is patient to allow his blocks to develop and then he shows no hesitation to burst through the hole. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry and 11.6 yards per reception so he can consistently make big plays.
Finish/YAC- Gainwell isn't the most powerful back in this class and he is more slippery than powerful when running. He does a solid job of lowering his pad level to break tackles and stay upright but he is going to need to add functional strength to his frame to be able to handle a featured back role in the NFL. He does a good job of breaking tackles with his elusiveness but he has shown that he can break off of contact and keep running. He has shown that he can bounce off tackles, keep his feet, and finish off runs.
Passing Game- He is the best receiving back in this class. He often lines up in the slot out wide and out wide and runs routes against cornerbacks and safeties. He is a good route runner and is often used on screens to simply get him the ball in space. When running routes out of the backfield he is going to consistently create separation against linebackers is great with the manufactured touches. He isn't immune to the occasional drop but he's shown solid hands and is electric after the catch in the open field. He's best after the catch with the ball in his hands.
Blocking/Ball Security- He fumbled the ball twice on 292 touches so ball security isn't a big issue but he can still improve upon it. He does have three drops on 66 targets so like I said above he isn't immune to the occasional drop and will need to improve his hands and cut down on the drops. In pass protection, he is very good, especially on chips/double teams. He has shown that he can hold his own on A-gap blitzes in one on one situations but his size can become a factor in this area of the game. Again he needs to add functional strength and muscle which he has hopefully done in 2020 while he hasn't been playing.
In the end, I have Gainwell ranked as my 5th running back. I think I would have him ranked higher had he played in 2020 and continued to develop but since he opted out I dropped him slightly. He is someone who can become a featured/three-down back in any offense, but best fit in a zone scheme. Any team that drafts him needs to commit to using him in the passing game both in the backfield and lined up in the slot or out wide. He is going to fall in the draft due to the positional value of running backs and I think a team in need of a running back could get a steal. A team like the Cardinals, if they don't resign Kenyan Drake, would be a perfect fit.