2021 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Kenneth Gainwell

2021 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Kenneth Gainwell

by April 11, 2021 1 comment

After lighting the American Athletic Conference on fire during his redshirt freshman year, Kenneth Gainwell has been on everyone’s radar. Hailing from one of the most underrated running back factories, Memphis, there is a lot to like with this prospect. Many compare him to his former teammate, Antonio Gibson. Gibson has been quite the impact player for the Washington Football Team, so there is a level of respect given with that comparison.

Is the comparison true? Is it just a lazy, easy comparison? Let’s find out. 

Make sure to check out all of our other 2021 NFL Draft Scouting Reports.

Player Bio

Name: Kenneth Gainwell

Jersey: #19

Position: Running Back

School: Memphis

Class: Redshirt Sophomore

Height: 5’11”

Weight: 201 lbs

Vision (7.0/10) 

Gainwell reads holes quite well for having little experience. He is far from the Frank Gore mindset of hitting the designated hole no matter what. The Memphis product also seems to be aware of when to lower the shoulder for a few more yards. He has a few “hero ball” plays, but they are not common. On the other hand, there are negatives to discuss. Gainwell is patient, but perhaps too patient for a fast-paced NFL. He is not prime Le’Veon Bell behind one of the best lines. Gainwell must be more decisive to be effective at the next level. On a bright note, he has great awareness of when to turn up his speed and shoot through open holes. 

Note: 5.0 is average and 9.0 is elite

Ball Security (6.75/10) 

Gainwell had two fumbles in his only season starting. This is standard, but watching him run showed that he has the ball high and tight. Maybe better security strength is needed, but he can gain that with the right strength training. The one huge problem is that Gainwell only holds the ball in his left arm (even when he needs to use it). This will be a big hurdle to master in the NFL. 

Balance (4.5/10) 

Gainwell usually goes down on first contact. His balance looks to be the biggest downfall of his game. Sure, he can do some nifty moves, but he trips constantly (almost Pat Freiermuth amount). Contact balance is so crucial in the NFL, and Gainwell will need to adapt his game and strengthen his core more to be able to absorb contact better. 

Ability to Break Tackles (6.25/10) 

Gainwell has an excellent skill set in terms of moves. He has solid spin moves and okay jukes in his arsenal. His juke moves are okay solely due to the fact that he has a hard time slowing down. The change of direction speed just is not there, so it is obvious when Gainwell wants to make a hard cut. Jukes at full speed (soft jukes) are excellent and very effective, so that is a breath of fresh air. One critical thing to note about Gainwell’s tackle-breaking ability is that he does not break tackles so much as try to avoid contact. In short, he will need to get a lot more efficient with his moves in order to avoid contact in the NFL. Also, ankle tackles do not appear to be too much of a problem for Gainwell to deal with.

Straight-Line Speed (8.25/10) 

It is no secret that Gainwell has game-breaking speed. His home-run-hitting ability is rivaled by few. He ran a 4.42 40-yard-dash at his pro day, and he plays like it. Gainwell’s score is not a nine, because he rarely shows this speed apart from on breakaways (which makes sense, given that this category is straight-line speed).   

Burst (6.5/10) 

Gainwell has solid acceleration, not to mention the fact that he can vary his speed quite well. As stated before, the Memphis product has a hard time changing directions and appears stiff in a limited sample size. There is much room to grow, but it is not impossible for Gainwell to be able to make up some ground here. 

Receiving (6.25/10) 

This is a tough category. As a pure receiver, he is surprisingly mediocre. He dropped a few passes that were catchable, but the real crime was the route-running. He ran solid routes, but few gained separation because they were soft routes that fooled nobody. On hard-breaking routes, it felt like Gainwell activated a version of 2020 Rondale Moore as he was slow into his break and then gained some minor separation. The best part of his receiving game is what happens after the catch. Gainwell is lethal at full speed, and he demonstrates this in open space. The comparison that most people use for him makes sense when looking at the Memphis product in open space. 

Blocking (8.75/10) 

This is the biggest shock of all. Gainwell is not pancake-blocking people. He is, however, very willing to block anyone and does so with extreme force. Gainwell has a visible impact on the defenders he blocks when they are hit by him. It is wonderful to see a running back be able to be such a great pass-protector nowadays. 

Positional Versatility (6.5/10) 

Gainwell has a lot of uses, but he has a select number of useful ones. First, he can be very effective in the wildcat. Thanks to his vision, holes open up at ease, especially with another blocker (the quarterback is substituted with another blocker). Gainwell has receiving abilities, but he should not be featured too heavily outside of receiving as a back. Overall, he is a one-cut back that has home-run-hitting ability and is lethal in space. 

Competitive Toughness (5/5) 

Gainwell is a fighter. As stated before, he is a willing blocker no matter the defender. He will be an excellent addition to any locker room. 

Injury (5/5)

The injury sheet is perfectly clean. His redshirt year came because he was buried on the depth chart.

Player Summary 

This was a fun one. Kenneth Gainwell certainly deserves respect for the prospect he is now and especially the player he could become. Remember: he only played one full year. It is scary thinking about how Gainwell could develop as he gains more experience. The former Tiger may not have an immediate impact, but he surely could blossom into the best running back in this class in due time. Gainwell has all of the basics down. Now, it is time for him to tweak his assets and work to eliminate his liabilities. The sky is the limit.

Final Grade (70.75/100): Late Third Round

Player Comp: (Raw) Austin Ekeler


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