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NFL Draft

2021 NFL Draft Scouting Report: RB Kenneth Gainwell

  • The Draft Network
  • December 28, 2020
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Kenneth Gainwell played quarterback in high school and produced 1,459 rushing yards (6.3 avg) and 13 touchdowns with 51 receptions for 610 yards and three receiving touchdowns in his first season of playing running back as a redshirt freshman in 2019. A dynamic playmaker in 2019, Gainwell has good vision, elusiveness, footwork, pass-catching ability, and a surprising amount of power given his build. Memphis featured him as both a runner and receiver and his pass-catching skills should be a big part of his role in the NFL. The Tigers got him involved in the screen game and from the slot, where he features good route-running skills, reliable hands, and creativity in space. With only one year of time at the running back position in a spread offense like Memphis, Gainwell has a considerable transition ahead of him to the NFL. His frame is somewhat long and lean and he would be well-served to bulk up to fill out his frame but also add functional strength. Gainwell has the potential to become the focal point of an NFL backfield as a multifaceted weapon. 

Ideal Role: Featured back that plays some in the slot and is featured heavily in the passing game. 

Scheme Fit: Spread, wide zone.


Written by Joe Marino 

Games watched: Penn State (2019), Cincinnati (2019), SMU (2019), Tulane (2019), Tulsa (2019), Temple (2019) 

Best Game Studied: Tulane (2019) 

Worst Game Studied: SMU (2019)

Vision: Gainwell feasted on light boxes in Memphis’ spread option. With that said, I appreciate his willingness to stay the course while also blending in some creativity. There were some impressive moments on tape where he forced linebackers to commit by pressing the hole and he was able to create cutback opportunities. Gainwell has outstanding vision in the open field with good spatial awareness.  

Footwork: Gainwell has terrific lateral quickness and the ability to make dynamic cuts outside of his frame. He does well to angle himself through gaps and keep his pads square. He features plenty of bounce in his step but he could be a bit more consistent keeping his feet engaged through contact. 

Contact Balance: Gainwell has a fairly long and lean frame and looks more like a receiver and it works against him when it comes to having that low center of gravity. With that said, it’s impressive how effective he is at reducing his pad level, moving piles, and picking up yards after contact. His frame does have room to add bulk and functional strength, which has hopefully been a priority in his time away from the field after opting out of the 2020 season. 

Durability: Gainwell has only one year of production as a running back. He enters the NFL after playing quarterback in high school and just 292 touches from scrimmage in college. While he has plenty of tread left on his tires, he’s also never been a featured back for any sustained amount of time. 

Explosiveness: For his career at Memphis, Gainwell averaged 6.6 yards per carry and 11.6 yards per reception and he’s plenty capable of hitting the long ball. Gainwell is quick and slippery through gaps and his creativity in space helps produce big plays. With that said, I’m not certain he has elite breakaway speed but it’s more than sufficient. 

Versatility: In addition to playing running back at Memphis, Gainwell was used often as a slot receiver and he does a great job of disguising screens. He’s versatile and multifaceted with upside as an inside and outside runner in addition to catching the football. His background as a high school quarterback will allow his offense some creative options and his game translates well to return duties despite never getting a chance to do so in college. 

Elusiveness: Gainwell is shifty and agile with plenty of wiggle. He makes dynamic cuts outside of his frame and gets terrific width in his jump cuts. His shiftiness helps him shake out of tackle attempts and produce after contact. 

Ball Security: Gainwell fumbled the football twice in 292 touches at Memphis. He does well to protect the football and isn’t loose with it. He had three drops in 66 targets in college. 

Passing Down Skills: Gainwell is a dynamic pass-catching back both out of the backfield and from the slot. He should be a major asset in the screen game at the next level where he was terrific in college both because of his creativity in space but how well he disguised them. He’s a good route runner that should create plenty of separation from linebackers in the NFL. Gainwell is a willing pass blocker.

Discipline: For the most part, Gainwell isn’t too eager to push runs outside of the play design unnecessarily. With that said, there are some times he needs to just bang the ball in the hole and “see 2, get 3.” His transition from the spread offense at Memphis to the NFL is a considerable change. 

Prospect Comparison: Ahmad Bradshaw (2007 NFL Draft, New York Giants) 


TDN Consensus: 76.25/100

Joe Marino: 78.00/100

Kyle Crabbs: 76.00/100

Jordan Reid: 77.00/100

Drae Harris: 74.00/100

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