Rookie Rundown: RB Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis

Rookie Rundown: RB Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis

Fantasy Football Rookie Analysis

Rookie Rundown: RB Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis

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Is there a better running back to represent Kenneth Gainwell’s surname than the Memphis wonder? Just about as explosive as they make ’em, Gainwell was among the nation’s most impressive dual-threat running backs in 2019 prior to opting out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns — more than understandable after losing four members of his family to the virus.

Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 190 pounds
40 time: 4.42 seconds

Memphis has churned out several NFL backs in recent years, including Dallas’ Tony Pollard, Green Bay’s Patrick Taylor, and the Los Angeles Rams’ Darrell Henderson. All three backs were ahead of Gainwell as a true freshman in 2018, so he decided to settle on a redshirt year after 10 total touches — 10 really impressive touches (four carries, 91 yards, 1 TD, six catches, 52 yards).

Table: Kenneth Gainwell NCAA stats (2018-19)

Year
School
Class
Gm*
Rushing
Receiving
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Rec
Yds
Avg
TD
2018
Memphis
FR
4
4
91
22.8
1
6
52
8.7
0
2019
Memphis
rFR
14
231
1,459
6.3
13
51
610
12.0
3
Career
235
1,550
6.6
14
57
662
11.6
3

*includes postseason/bowl games

Gainwell earned first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors and was named AAC Rookie of the Year in 2019. His versatility and combustible nature will make for an interesting weapon in the NFL, but finding the right home is a must.

Pros

  • Dangerous threat to score every time he touches the ball
  • Super productive in his one season of meaningful work
  • Enough strength to run through arm tackles
  • Effective spin move and contact balance to collect himself for more yardage
  • Experienced out of the backfield running more complex routes
  • Naturally gifted receiver, understanding techniques to better position his body and allow him to catch on the run
  • Seamlessly flexes out wide and into the slot
  • Great fit for a zone-blocking system that allows him to utilize his vision and cutback ability — patiently plays off of his blocks with unpredictable fluidity
  • Recognizes how to manipulate a defender’s momentum to work in Gainwell’s favor
  • Gives an earnest effort in blitz pickup
  • Not much dancing behind the line — has a north-south mentality not often seen in backs of his stature

Cons

  • For as explosive as he is, it’s tough to find much tape with a second gear — hits the hole fast and rarely shows the ability to kick it up a notch
  • Limited creativity in the open field — quite a bit of film of his skills behind the line and in the heart of the trenches, but second- and third-level moves tend to be basic
  • Gravitates toward contact — admirable trait, but it’s more often than not a career-killer for a back of his size
  • A one-year wonder?
  • System-dependent — most of his carries and catches came from manufactured plays in a spread, wide-zone concept
  • Lacks physical strength to be more than a “get in the way” blocker

Fantasy football outlook

While it isn’t a perfect comparison by any means, Indianapolis Colts running back Nyheim Hines comes to mind when evaluating Gainwell. Both have the speed, hands, and route-running skills to thrive in the correct role.

Due to his limitations and a depressed need for the position, Gainwell figures to be a third-round pick. He could move into the late second, and there’s not going to be much shock if he falls into Round 4, but he’s bound to be selected in the first five rounds.

Teams in need of a back with similar traits: Jacksonville, Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, Arizona, Cincinnati and Tennessee. Arizona sort of has that in Chase Edmonds, but he’s not an every-down guy. Tennessee doesn’t like taking Derrick Henry off of the field, but improved depth is a must.

The best fits for immediate impact would be the Jaguars, Broncos, Bengals and 49ers. San Fran would be fun to see, due to creativity and a need, but fantasy football owners could become frustrated by erratic involvement from week to week. Gainwell deserves attention for roster depth in 2021 single-year drafts, and he has weekly flex potential in long-term PPR formats.

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