2021 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Kenny Gainwell

  • Kenny Gainwell, 5-11/191

  • Running Back

  • Memphis

  • Kenny Gainwell Scouting Report
    By Charlie Campbell

  • Fast
  • Acceleration
  • Quick first-step to hit the hole
  • Second gear in the open field
  • Threat to rip off a long touchdown on any carry
  • Instinctive runner
  • Good vision
  • Anticipation
  • Compact build
  • Runs hard and physical for his size
  • Tougher between the tackles one would think
  • Knee bend
  • Runs behind his pads
  • Elusive; has moves in the open field
  • Cutting ability
  • Quick feet
  • Receiving skills
  • Dangerous route-runner
  • Mismatch receiver
  • Can line up in the slot
  • Soft hands
  • Catches with his hands
  • Third-down weapon
  • Decisive runner
  • Has a nose for the end zone

  • Weaknesses:
  • One-year wonder
  • Could struggle to create lots of yards after contact in the NFL
  • Won’t be an asset in goal-line or short-yardage situations
  • Will need development in blitz protection
  • Frame could be maxed out
  • Can he hold up and avoid injury in the NFL?

  • Summary: Gainwell was one of the most electric players in college football in 2019. The redshirt freshman, despite splitting touches with a good stable of skill position players, stood out as a dynamic runner and receiver for Memphis. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry on 231 carries for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also was a superb receiver out of the backfield, recording 51 receptions for 610 yards and three scores through the air.

    Gainwell went under the radar, but he was simply terrific in 2019. During the summer of 2020, scouts looking ahead to players in their territory for the next fall raved about Gainwell. Gainwel, however, decided to sit out the 2020 season because of COVID-19, and his decision was especially understandable due to four members of his family having passed away from the virus.

    As a runner, Gainwell is an explosive playmaker. He has a first-step burst and accelerates through the hole before shifting into a second gear to explode downfield for long gains. With his explosion, it looks like Gainwell gets a step head-start over everybody else on the field. It reminds this analyst of Percy Harvin at Florida. In the open field, Gainwell is not just fast, as he has moves to dodge tacklers and tremendous change-of-direction skills.

    Gainwell is tougher between the tackles than would expect from the eyeball test. He runs with natural body lean and knee bend to stay behind his pads. While Gainwell is not big, he has impressive balance and shows the ability to fight through some contact.

    On top of being a dangerous runner, Gainwell is a dynamic receiver who can line up in the slot. He displays dangerous route-running ability alongside explosion and shiftiness to generate separation. On wheel routes, slants, digs, crosses, and screens, Gainwell is a dangerous threat to turn a short pass into a big play. He also has soft hands and is a natural in terms of catching the ball. Gainwell is elusive in the open field and can rip off yards in chunks. He is too fast and shifty for linebackers or safeties to cover in man, so he provides an excellent mismatch and will be a third-down receiving weapon in the NFL.

    For the next level, it would help Gainwell to add some weight and muscle to avoid injury and improve his ability to push for tough yardage. Like all college backs, Gainwell will need some tutoring in pass protection. Once he develops that ability, he has the potential to be a dynamic three-down starter in the pros.

    Gainwell looks like a potential second-day pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. It might not be immediate, but he could work his way into being a starter.

    Player Comparison: Christian McCaffrey. Some scouts say Gainwell’s style of play is similar to McCaffrey, the best back in the NFL, because of his ability to be a playmaking running back or receiver. Gainwell probably will not be as good of a pro as McCaffrey, but Gainwell’s style of play at Memphis looked like McCaffrey in Carolina. Gainwell might be a poor-man’s McCaffrey in the NFL.


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