Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis
Pro Day Results:
40-yard dash: 4.42 seconds
Gainwell spent 3 years starting at QB for Yazoo County High School in Mississippi, amassing 4,730 rushing yards and 3,682 passing. He led his squad to a 14-1 record and a berth in the state title game as a senior.
A 3-star prospect, Gainwell chose Memphis over 7 other offers from a mix of mostly FCS and lower-level FBS schools. (Though he did get an offer from home-state Ole Miss.)
Gainwell arrived to a loaded Tigers backfield that returned Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard and Patrick Taylor -- all of whom currently hold down NFL jobs. (Taylor sits on Green Bay’s practice squad.) Gainwell appeared in the 1st 4 games but ultimately took a redshirt.
With Henderson and Pollard gone to the NFL for 2019, Gainwell opened his redshirt freshman year sharing the backfield with Taylor. And he benefited from a bit of luck.
Taylor garnered 27 carries and 4 receptions in the opener, vs. 16 and 6 for Gainwell. But Taylor would miss the next 8 games with a foot injury. That set up Gainwell to lead the backfield, and he capitalized by going for 100+ yards on the ground in 6 of the 8 contests. Even after Taylor returned, Gainwell garnered 73 carries to Taylor’s 51 and 15 catches to Taylor’s 4 the rest of the way.
Gainwell finished that season 12th in the nation in rushing yards, 6th in scrimmage yards per game and 4th in total scrimmage yards. He trailed only Chuba Hubbard, Jonathan Taylor and J.K. Dobbins in that final category. In a game against Temple, he became the 1st player since 1997 to rack up 200+ receiving yards and 100+ rushing in a single contest.
Gainwell’s 51 receptions also ranked 2nd on the team -- 13 ahead of Antonio Gibson (who also drew only 33 rushing attempts).
That would be the RB’s final college season. He opted out of 2020, a particularly understandable decision given that his family lost 4 members to the virus.
I could have sought out more games for Gainwell -- and probably will, even just for fun. But his upside is readily apparent.
Gainwell added about 10 pounds through his opt-out season, after playing around 190 in 2019. But he wasn’t some little scatback to begin with.
His power and balance show up again on this screen pass.
And here he displays the vision to counter after the defense cuts off the play’s intended path, plus the strength to run through a tackle attempt at the end.
Where Gainwell really has a chance to separate from many others in this class, though, is what he’s capable of doing after that contact.
That move, of course, followed a WR-style drag route from a slot position -- another mark in Gainwell’s favor. Even in just the 4 games I watched here, he spent a bunch of snaps lining up out wide or in the slot.
But again, it’s the speed-agility combo that could really differentiate Gainwell from many others in this class.
That last play finished off with a nice stiff arm. It also got negated by an early hold. But Gainwell would get the TD back later on that drive …
The spin looks like a signature move for Gainwell.
But he’s not a dancer. He moves efficiently to and through the line.
Gainwell doesn’t have the size or workhorse upside of Najee Harris -- or even Travis Etienne. He also gave us just 1 season of college tape and results to judge from. But that year flashed the potential for Gainwell to emerge as the #3 RB in this class.
When asked to compare himself with former teammate Antonio Gibson after his pro day, Gainwell called them “similar” players but added that “I play running back before I play receiver.”
Gibson beats Gainwell on size (6 feet, 228 pounds). And he’s a little faster (4.39-second 40). But Gibson also hit the NFL with less RB experience than Gainwell -- and even fewer receptions in their lone shared season.
The draft capital Gainwell’s NFL team spends on him will be worth watching. He looks like the kind of talent who should get picked sometime on Day 2. Sliding to Day 3, though, could hurt his available opportunity. That matters more at RB than other positions, because we know the shelf life isn’t nearly as good at this position.
But Gainwell’s low-volume college career could help his NFL longevity, and his package of skills seems ideally suited for today’s NFL. In the right situation, he could immediately present a high fantasy ceiling.