Kenneth Gainwell’s Dynasty Value: Where should you draft him in 2021 rookie fantasy drafts?

In a relatively weak running back class, Memphis’ Kenneth Gainwell is one of the higher valued running backs in dynasty formats. The best pass catcher of the class, Gainwell could be a fantasy football star but has obstacles in his way after landing with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Kenneth Gainwell’s dynasty value for 2021

Gainwell is just the next player to come into the NFL Draft out of Memphis’ running back pipeline. Other running backs that have recently come out of Memphis include Tony Pollard, Darrell Henderson, and Antonio Gibson.

For my money, Gainwell is the best pass-catching back in this class and acts like a slot wide receiver out of the backfield. Hell, he even runs routes like one. Find me another RB in this class whose team is comfortable enough to have him run comeback routes. Don’t worry — I’ll wait. 

Last season, one of the biggest questions in dynasty drafts surrounded Gibson — if he was so good, why did he only have 33 carries? Gainwell was the reason. He perfectly fit the role Memphis required. If he were at a Power Five school, he would have been talked about as one of the nation’s best backs.

The issue for Gainwell, like many running backs, is his landing spot had a drastic impact on his dynasty value. Heading into the NFL Draft, Gainwell was my locked-in RB4. However, things changed quickly once the Philadelphia Eagles selected him at pick No. 150. He fell to my RB6 of this draft class once landing spots were considered.

Can Kenneth Gainwell find value for dynasty managers of the Eagles?

This truly is less than ideal for a few reasons. First, the Eagles’ offense as a whole is one big question mark following the firing of Doug Pederson and the trade of Carson Wentz. While I am a big fan of Jalen Hurts, he certainly has his detractors.

However, it seemed to jumpstart the stagnant Eagles offense. Miles Sanders saw success in the more high-tempo offense. With Hurts a constant threat as a rusher, Sanders’ 236 yards from Weeks 14 thru 16 was the second-highest three-game total of the season (Weeks 5, 6, and 10). During this stretch, he was the RB7, averaging 19.3 PPR points per game and 0.98 points per opportunity (season-high).

I bring this up because this is who Gainwell now has to split carries with so long as he can leap Boston Scott in the depth chart. Scott is coming off a career-high season of his own. He set new benchmarks for opportunities (116) and yards (586). However, he scored just once as a rusher.

Receiving backs tend to see a decrease in targets when paired with rushing QBs. Rather than dump the ball off, they find an open lane and run. It tends to be a more effective play. Not only was Hurts good at this, but he was just one yard off Lamar Jackson for the top spot (238) but had the most carries (38) from Weeks 14 thru 16. With Sanders having two more years on his rookie contract, it’s hard to see Gainwell carving a significant role out in this offense until at least 2023, barring injuries. Even as the RB2, Gainwell is unlikely to see more than 10 opportunities a game unless the Eagles choose to slide him out as a receiver–something we saw him do at Memphis.

Gainwell’s dynasty value blew up in his lone season as a starter

Like many others in the 2021 class, Gainwell faced a difficult decision last year. Given the pandemic and tumultuous NCAA season, he chose to opt-out of the season and focus on the draft. The risk of this is that it allows him to become somewhat forgotten about due to recency bias. Playing at Memphis rather than a large school didn’t help either. With that being said, Gainwell had already put together an incredible résumé.

After redshirting his first year on campus, Gainwell broke out in 2019. He started in all 14 games for the AAC champion Tigers and led all FBS freshmen with 2,069 all-purpose yards. He rushed 231 times for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Additionally, he showed his receiving prowess by hauling in 51 receptions for 610 yards and 3 more touchdowns. Gainwell’s arguably most impressive performance came against Tulane, where he had a 200-yard receiving and 100-yard rushing game.

Even once a defender gets their hands on Gainwell, he is not easy to take down and shows incredible contact balance and elite agility. He will never be considered a power back or one you want in that scheme, but at 5’11” and 195 pounds, he is not a scatback either. Given the prep work players do to get ready for their pro days, Gainwell likely will play north of 200 pounds. 

Where should you draft Gainwell in dynasty rookie drafts?

I won’t lie to you. This running back class is, well, not stellar. It is very, very top-heavy. If you look back to last season, five running backs were going inside the first six picks in rookie drafts. On the contrary, we don’t likely have six startable backs in the entire class this season.

There is an apparent tier gap for me. Najee Harris is in a league of his own, followed by Javonte Williams and Travis Etienne in Round 2. On pure talent, Gainwell would be in the third tier. With that being said, talent alone does not earn fantasy points.

In 1QB formats, Gainwell is a late-second round dynasty pick in rookie drafts. In post-draft rankings, he has been jumped by both Trey Sermon (San Francisco) and Michael Carter (New York Jets). When we change to Superflex formats, all five quarterbacks will come off the board ahead of him, pushing him into the early third round. Should anything happen to Sanders, Gainwell would be a massive value given the change in ADP. 

As I said, the landing spot is a massive factor for Gainwell’s dynasty value. Sanders has two more years left on his contract, so Gainwell will be living in a timeshare for quite some time. It stands to reason he will likely never be a leading back so long as Sanders is healthy.

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Tommy Garrett is a writer for Pro Football Network covering the NFL and fantasy football. You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.

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