Last week, I laid out the pros and cons of adding Philadelphia Eagles rookie RB Kenneth Gainwell to your fantasy football league. Today, let’s get down to the reason you’re probably reading this — how much can you trust Gainwell on Thursday Night Football in Week 6?
What is Kenneth Gainwell’s role in Philadelphia’s offense?
Heading into last weekend, Gainwell seemed to be a pretty safe RB3/4. He was coming off a Week 4 breakout in which he caught 6 receptions on 8 targets for 58 yards, adding 31 yards and a touchdown on 3 carries.
Indeed, this signaled great things for the 2021 fifth-rounder out of the University of Memphis. With Miles Sanders sputtering, surely this rookie could ascend to a co-share role, if not an outright 1A position that would ensure weekly startability in most leagues.
If you read my column last week, you already know the answer. Gainwell’s upside is capped by a high-flying Jalen Hurts averaging 6.0 yards per carry, a diminished-yet-efficient Sanders averaging 4.5 yards per carry, and five receivers have 17+ targets through five weeks. Thus, Gainwell is one of eight weapons in a highly balanced offense in which only Hurts is a weekly starter.
Sanders and Gainwell are merely the RB30 and RB31, respectively, in fantasy through five weeks. DeVonta Smith (WR32) is the only Philadelphia wideout posting top-60 numbers, though his stock is clearly rising as he successfully acclimates to the NFL. Dallas Goedert (TE12) is a fringe fantasy starter, while Zach Ertz (TE20) is a situational streamer.
Gainwell is a piece of the puzzle. Last week, I concluded that he’s a “wait-and-see weekly option in a season that’s still in the early stages and on a team loaded with young players at key offensive positions.” A week later, nothing has changed.
Should you start or sit Gainwell in Week 6?
Thursday night’s matchup features a Tampa Bay defense struggling through the air but dominating on the ground. They’re giving up a league-best 2.9 yards per carry and just 1 rushing touchdown. Realistically, managers starting Gainwell are relying on a higher-than-normal target share (more likely) or a cheap touchdown (less likely).
The Bucs are No. 3 in the league in points scored. The Eagles’ middling defense is less likely to slow them down than Tom Brady’s thumb injury — which, by the way, is not expected to hamper him. Therefore, we should expect 30+ points from Tampa Bay. Since they’re so tough to run on, we might anticipate Sanders and Gainwell getting a little more attention than usual in the passing game.
Interestingly, Sanders leads Gainwell in receptions (16-14). In other words, even if game flow forces the Eagles into pass-happy catch-up mode in the second half, there’s no guarantee Gainwell benefits.
As good as he looked against the subpar Falcons and Chiefs defenses, he struggled to produce against the 49ers and Cowboys. Last week in Carolina, he earned a season-low 3 touches despite playing from behind most of the game.
There are better RB3/flex options in Week 6
If you already have an RB3+ to start this week, start that guy. For example, if you’re choosing between Gainwell and a high-usage RB handcuff like Tony Pollard or AJ Dillon, those handcuffs are likely safer. Similarly, if you have a high-ceiling, boom-or-bust RB like J.D. McKissic, definitely roll the dice for upside.
However, if you’re still waiting for Kenyan Drake to bust out, or if you’re hoping that Latavius Murray will bounce back (hint — as shared before Week 5 Monday Night Football, he probably won’t), then take a shot on Gainwell. He has a good shot at 6+ points, and if Sanders struggles, Gainwell might surprise. All I ask is that you temper expectations, as you would with any non-starting rookie running back. Gainwell is risky for a reason.