Kenneth Gainwell didn't play last fall but he's still expected to be in the first group of running backs taken in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft. He may not have the build to be a workhorse back but his versatility and big-play potential make him an ideal fit for modern offenses. He's a safe bet to follow in the footsteps of recent Memphis backs who have been drafted, such as Antonio Gibson, Darrell Henderson Jr., and Tony Pollard.
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Kenneth Gainwell Draft Profile
The latest in a line of impressive backs out of Memphis, Gainwell shows the outstanding balance, body control and agility to create, but he doesn’t get too cute. He does a nice job squaring his shoulders and accelerating upfield when he gets a crease, showing good vision and the decisiveness and early burst to get past the line of scrimmage quickly. He has the body control and the coordination to string together multiple moves and beat defenders at the second level. He should be able to find yards between the tackles at the NFL level, and he has a knack not only for bouncing off tackles at the second and third levels, but also for lowering his shoulder and finishing runs well. He’s special in the passing game, capable of playing the slot and showing a feel for not only creating separation but also tracking the ball further downfield. He made a handful of contested and back-shoulder catches working the boundary at Memphis, and he’ll bring a movable chess piece element to an NFL offense.
Workload and durability will be big question marks with Gainwell, who topped 20 carries in a game only twice at the collegiate level. He has a slight build and probably won’t be able to handle a lot of work between the tackles. Even at the relatively light weight, he didn’t show true breakaway speed in college.
He might never be a workhorse back, but Gainwell is built for the modern NFL. His ability to create as a runner — and create mismatches in the passing game — will earn him a significant role. He could ultimately be a difference-maker, even in a part-time role.
Final Grade: 2nd/3rd round
(Top photo courtesy of Memphis Athletics)