Jeff McLane: 👍
Who doesn’t love a shifty, small running back? Four years after wasting two draft picks on Donnel Pumphrey — yes, the Eagles traded up for him — they selected Kenny Gainwell in the fifth round. The 5-foot-8, 201-pound Memphis product was a change-of-direction maestro in college, and could become an ideal third-down complement to Miles Sanders.
He’ll need some work, but there is considerable upside if coach Nick Sirianni and Co. can get him into space. Best-case scenario, he develops into the next Darren Sproles. Worst case, well, he turns into Pumphrey, Part 2. More than likely, he’ll fall somewhere in the middle, which should be good enough for a fifth-rounder.
Like Pumphrey, there’s some question about Gainwell’s burst. But he shouldn’t go down as easily. He was more than a willing blocker in his one year as a starter. It should be noted that he sat out last year, but fewer college snaps for a running back mean less wear and tear.
Gainwell might thrive most as a receiver. The Eagles’ screen game was among the NFL’s worst last season, although it had more to do with scheme and play-calling than talent. I could see Gainwell possibly stealing snaps from Boston Scott as the season progresses. If he can or can’t play at this level, the Eagles will know almost immediately.
Les Bowen: 👍
In the fifth round, Gainwell seems to represent really good value. He ought to be able to complement Sanders at a higher level than the players the Eagles tried to do that with last year.
In his discussion with reporters after being drafted, Gainwell spoke of his high regard for Sproles, who was a fourth-round pick of the Chargers in 2005. That would probably be Gainwell’s optimal comparison, at 5-8, 201 pounds. He hasn’t shown a Sproles-level burst, though.
Like Sproles, Gainwell is said to be at his best in space. He’s an excellent receiver. We know Sirianni used Nyheim Hines very effectively that way in Indianapolis. Gainwell is unlikely to rewrite the franchise record books — he’s pegged as a sturdy, smooth one-cut runner, not a home-run hitter like Sanders — but he comes in with good tread on his tires, having sat out 2020.
Gainwell was a starter for only one season at Memphis, as a redshirt freshman in 2019, which might mean he needs some polishing. He’s endured a lot in his 22 years, losing four family members to COVID-19, and seeing his older brother, Curtis, battle back from a stroke suffered while lifting weights. He seems mature and focused.
Paul Domowitch: 👍
I have no idea why this kid, whom I really, really like, managed to go unclaimed until the fifth round. Check that. Actually, I do.
He is essentially a carbon copy of another undersized running back who went 43 picks in front of him, North Carolina’s Michael Carter.
Gainwell, like Carter, is a versatile rushing and receiving threat with excellent vision and quickness who should be a fun matchup weapon in the passing game for offensive coordinator Shane Steichen.
But Carter played in 44 games at UNC and was a Senior Bowl invitee. Gainwell opted out last season after four family members died of COVID-19-related issues and essentially played just one season at Memphis. He had two years of eligibility remaining when he declared for the draft.
Gainwell excelled in Memphis’ RPO spread offense in 2019, rushing for nearly 1,500 yards. He was the only FBS player in the country that year to have 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards. He was so good that Memphis’s other running back, Antonio Gibson, who was taken in the third round of the 2020 draft by Washington and rushed for 795 yards last year as a rookie, lined up primarily at wide receiver. Gainwell probably isn’t an every-down NFL back, which also hurt his draft stock. But how many teams have a three-down back anymore? In the hands of a creative coach, this kid can be a productive, dangerous chess piece.
He’s going to give the Eagles a versatile weapon that they can rotate, and maybe occasionally even pair, with Sanders.
Ben Fennell had Gainwell rated as his No. 1 “gadget” running back in the draft. “He has wide receiver skills,” Fennell said.
Brian Baldinger compared him to Charlie Garner and Brian Westbrook. “He’s like that,” he said.
EJ Smith: 👍
It will take a few seasons to be certain, but this could be Howie Roseman’s best value pick of the draft class. Gainwell should be an immediate contributor as a Swiss army knife.
Gainwell opted out last season because of the pandemic, so he’ll enter training camp presumably with fresh legs and a clean bill of health. In 2019, he had 2,069 yards from scrimmage and 16 total touchdowns. He has legit route-running ability and runs with more power than you might imagine.
Drafting Gainwell in the fifth round was a rare opportunity for the Eagles to take a “best player available” approach while also getting a guy who fits well into their offense. Sirianni, then with the Colts, utilized Hines as a receiving running back who could also line up as a slot receiver, and Gainwell figures to fill that role capably.
Hines averaged around eight touches per game during Sirianni’s time as the Colts’ offensive coordinator in Indianapolis, and Gainwell could be in for a similar workload right away.
Gainwell could even develop into a playmaker who requires a larger piece of the pie down the road. The Eagles have Sanders on his rookie contract for two more seasons, so they probably would love for Gainwell to eventually take over and save them the stress of giving a young running back a second contract.
Even if Gainwell never becomes more than a complementary change-of-pace guy worthy of a dozen or so touches a game, that’s still decent value. When you factor in his upside as a modern-day back with relatively low miles, there’s not much to quibble with here.