Could Eagles’ Kenneth Gainwell Be One Of The 2021 NFL Draft Steals
The arrival of new Eagles Head Coach Nick Sirianni is not just a change of leadership for the Philadelphia organization on the field, it signals a change is approach and philosophy Offensively from a coach whose background is very different than what Doug Pederson brought to the table. Sirianni Offenses have numerous distinctions from the Pederson-Reid concepts with the biggest variable is how Sirianni's Chargers and Colts teams were heavy focused on amplifying their playmakers at the Wide Receiver and Running Back positions.
The Colts had three different starting Quarterbacks over three seasons that Sirianni was the Offensive Coordinator and he worked with Philip Rivers in both Indianapolis along with Sirianni's five seasons with the Chargers. Those offenses got production from multiple running backs:
-With the Chargers, Melvin Gordon had Danny Woodhead and Austin Eckler as the change up backs
-The Colts got production from Running Backs Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines, Jordan Wilkins, and Jonathan Taylor
The Colts had a top ten ranked Run Game for two of three years Sirianni was the Offensive Coordinator while the Chargers finished top ten in Total Yards for three of the five seasons Sirianni worked there. Typically these Running Backs had specific roles but could execute multiple skills within their roles.
The Eagles selection with the 150th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft was Memphis Running Back Kenneth Gainwell, a 5'11" Running Back weighing in at 190 lbs who was the team's leading rusher for the 2019 season. That season Gainwell had more offensive touches (231 Rushes + 51 Receptions) compared to talented Washington Rookie Antonio Gibson (33 Carries + 38 Receptions). Memphis has produced multiple NFL Running Backs over the last few years with Antonio Gibson, Tony Pollard, and Darrell Henderson showcasing their productivity in the league, all three of those players landing with their teams in the third and fourth rounds of the NFL Draft.
Yahoo Sports NFL Writer and Draft Analyst Eric Edholm joined GameNight with Josh Hennig on Monday and spoke about what Kenneth Gainwell brings to the Eagles:
"(Gainwell) is one of the best third down backs in this entire (Draft) Class, not a big guy but kind of a bigger Boston Scott....He's kind of got a squirting running style but he's also tough, he will take a hit and keep powering through it so good contact balance. - I don't know how much of a volume guy he's going to be but I absolutely think he and Miles Sanders have a way to pair up and take some of the work load of (Sanders) shoulders a little bit, we know injuries are a bit of a story for (Sanders) as well."
Gainwell finished the 2019 NCAA season with the fourth most Yards From Scrimmage (2,069) in all of FBS College Football and his 16 Total Touchdowns was tied for the third most in the American Athletic Conference that year. We know that Sirianni's offenses have a history of wanting multiple Running Backs to play roles and Gainwell definitely fits the role of a perfect compliment to current Eagles number one RB Miles Sanders.
Edholm also explained why the Eagles got great value picking Gainwell in the fifth round despite the level of talent he is bringing to the Eagles roster:
"The opt-out this season seem to kind of hurt him....For Gainwell to (be drafted) where he did at the 150th pick, that was about two rounds lower than I thought he would go. - I thought it was absurd value at (150th pick) and they did a great job; I thought all day long (Gainwell) should have been a top 100 player. Again, that's one of the reasons I like the Eagles Draft because they kind of let the draft come to them in a certain respect and weren't afraid to take players who had fallen out of their expected range. So (Gainwell) was one of my favorite (picks) for the Eagles, for sure."
Gainwell fell to the fifth round because he was one of the numerous players who opted out of the 2020 season and his drop in the draft became potentially the steal of the class for the Eagles. Getting a player with potentially top 100 talent in the fifth round is great but not unexpected. Running Backs historically are undervalued in the NFL Draft and the list of guys who go on to have productive careers who were drafted on Day Three (Rounds Four through Seven) includes:
-Tony Pollard (4th round, 2019 NFL Draft)
-Nyheim Hines (4th round, 2018 NFL Draft)
-Tarik Cohen (4th round, 2017 NFL Draft)
-Marlon Mack (4th round, 2017 NFL Draft)
-Aaron Jones (5th round, 2017 NFL Draft)
-Chris Carson (7th round, 2017 NFL Draft)
-Jordan Howard (5th round, 2016 NFL Draft)
-Jay Ajayi (5th round, 2015 NFL Draft)
CBS Sports HQ Football Analyst and founder of Football Gameplan Emory Hunt joined GameNight with Josh Hennig on Tuesday; Emory says that Kenneth Gainwell's time playing at Memphis prepares him to be a contributor for the Eagles:
"It was interesting to see (Gainwell) fall because you consider all the Running Backs that came out of Memphis, all of those guys played in tandem. So I do think him landing to Philadelphia helps the Run game. While he might not be the most dynamic player or explosive player, he's a very productive player and running side car to Miles Sanders just helps that run game especially when you factor in a mobile Quarterback with Jalen Hurts....Coming from Memphis (Gainwell) split carries so he doesn't need volume to be successful and that's going to be the role he's going to play in Philadelphia. - The fact of the matter is that (Philadelphia) has guys that can do a lot of different things and you just try to stockpile the depth chart with backfield talent....(Eagles) filled a need with Gainwell."
The Eagles made it clear in the 2021 NFL Draft they were targeting Best Play Available each round while also addressing the lack of depth at multiple positions. When Miles Sanders missed time with an injury, Philadelphia saw Boston Scott, Corey Clement, Jordan Howard, and Jason Huntley try to fill the void with only little success. In fact, Sanders had more Total Yards last year (867 Rush + 197 Receiving) than those other four Running Backs had combined (732). So Kenneth Gainwell has the talent and aptitude to fill the second Running Back role for the Eagles this upcoming season.
While other teams had good NFL Draft Day Three finds like Cowboys' selecting Linebacker Jabril Cox in the fourth round, Tampa's Fifth Round Pick Linebacker KJ Britt, and Panthers' Sixth Round selection Offensive Guard Deonte Brown, the Eagles looks to have landed the player who could have the most impact immediately. Gainwell is a Running Back who was asked to do everything at Memphis and showed he can do it at a high level. His skill set fits with what Nick Sirianni and Eagles new Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen want from their Running Backs. While Alabama Wide Receiver Devonta Smith may get the headlines for this draft class, the Eagles have potentially the steal of the Day Three of the 2021 NFL Draft in versatile Running Back Kenneth Gainwell.