Are the Memphis Tigers turning into an explosive running back factory? Antonio Gibson enjoyed an impressive rookie season for the Washington Football Team last season. Can Kenneth Gainwell be the next Tiger up as he heads to the 2021 NFL Draft?
Kenneth Gainwell NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Running Back
- School: Memphis
- Year: Redshirt Sophomore
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 191 pounds
Tony Pauline’s Kenneth Gainwell Scouting Report
Positives: Moved into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2019 after Patrick Taylor was injured, then opted out of the 2020 season. Explosive and creative ball carrier who is also a solid pass catcher. Quick, creative, and plays with balance. Sets up defenders then makes them miss, keeps the play in bounds, and works to pick up positive yardage.
Has a burst through the hole, immediately gets to top speed, and has enough speed to turn the corner. Quick-footed with a nice stutter step, deceptively strong, and runs with excellent lean. Possesses good vision, uses blocks everywhere on the field, and consistently finds the running lanes. Terrific receiver out of the backfield and also effectively lined up in the slot. Picks up blocking assignments and stays with the action.
Negatives: Possesses average size and won’t be able to handle a lot of carries in the NFL. Has a very small body of work at the college level.
Analysis: Gainwell did an outstanding job after stepping into the starting lineup in 2019 and shows great versatility as a ball carrier, a pass catcher, and even a blocker. He’s a high-upside prospect who also comes with downside risk, but Gainwell is a situational back with potential on all three.
Kenneth Gainwell Player Profile
Kenneth Gainwell heads to the 2021 NFL Draft as one of the most exciting running back prospects in the class. However, his journey began as a high school quarterback in Yazoo City, Mississippi. A three-year starter, the dual-threat QB guided Yazoo County High School to three state playoffs. As a senior in 2017, he delivered the best record in school history and an MHSAA Class 3A State Championship.
Gainwell was a true dual threat. In his high school career, he threw for 3,682 passing yards while also rushing for 4,730 yards. Gainwell contributed for over 100 touchdowns, with 75 rushing, 32 passing, and even a kick return touchdown.
As a result of his performances as a senior, he starred in the Mississippi/Alabama High School classic All-Star Game. With 56 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns, he was voted the Co-Offensive MVP.
Despite his impressive high school achievements he was under-recruited coming out of Yazoo
A three-star prospect as per 247 Sports, he was tabbed as an athlete. Ranked as the 29th prospect in the state, and 124th “athlete”, he attracted just two major offers. Despite one being from Ole Miss, he committed to Memphis, enrolling in August 2018.
As a freshman arriving late to campus, he saw limited action in 2018. However, he demonstrated immediately the explosive and versatile nature of his game. As a true-freshman, the Memphis running back averaged 22.8 yards on 4 carries while catching 6 passes for 52 yards. Demonstrating his big-play ability, he had 80 rushing yards on just 2 carries against Georgia State.
It paved the way for an incredible redshirt-freshman season in 2019.
Kenneth Gainwell exploded onto the NFL Draft radar as a multi-faceted backfield threat
His list of accomplishments in 2019 are mind-blowing. He had six consecutive games where he had 100+ rushing yards. That includes a career-high 209 yards against Louisiana-Monroe. More impressively, he had 307 all-purpose yards and 3 touchdowns against Tulane.
In the 2019 season, there was just one game where the Memphis running back achieved less than 100 all-purpose yards. As a result, he led the AAC in yards from scrimmage. Furthermore, he finished fourth in the nation in total scrimmage yards. He earned recognition with All-AAC First Team honors and was a semi-finalist for the prestigious Doak Walker Award.
Due to the uncertainty around the 2020 college football season, Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell opted out and instead declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Kenneth Gainwell’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell offers a versatile and explosive weapon in the 2021 NFL Draft. Moreover, his ability as a pass-catching RB ensures that he can play a three-down role in the NFL. He would best fit a team that values using their running backs as pass catchers. That could take the form of catching passes out of the backfield or lined up as a slot receiver.
If you consider how the Carolina Panthers use Christian McCaffrey, that’s the role for Gainwell. I could see him on the New England Patriots. However, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers are also possibilities.
Due to his slight size, a team that has a goal line banger of a back already on their books would be wise to give Kenneth Gainwell serious consideration in the 2021 NFL Draft.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.