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2021 NFL Draft: Kenneth Gainwell Profile

2021 NFL Draft: Kenneth Gainwell Profile

Early summer scouting gives an opportunity for organizations, scouts, and fans to get excited for certain prospects as they look to build on their current accomplishments heading into the 2020 college football season. One prospect in particular that has caught my eye this early in the process is Kenneth Gainwell, RB from Memphis. Given the recent success of the Memphis football program in sending running back talent to the NFL, including Antonio Gibson (2020 3rd round pick), Darrell Henderson (2019 3rd round pick), and Tony Pollard (2019 4th round pick), this makes Gainwell all the more intriguing even before diving into the tape. Pro Football Magazine takes a look at Gainwell’s profile heading into a potentially great redshirt sophomore season in 2020. As NFL draft news has slowed due to COVID-19, we’ll be posting these individual player profiles more often from now on, which is earlier in the process than usual.

NFL Draft Kenneth Gainwell profile

Basic Information

Entering his redshirt sophomore season at Memphis, Kenneth “Kenny” Gainwell measures in at 5’11”, 191 lbs. Kenny had limited game time in his freshman season causing him to utilize the redshirt option because of the talent that had preceded him. But after the departure of Henderson and Pollard, Gainwell absolutely broke out in his redshirt freshman season in 2019. With Patrick Taylor Jr. being a downhill, short-yardage back and Antonio Gibson being mostly utilized as a receiver, Gainwell proved he can be a do-it-all back. He rushed 1459 yards and 13 touchdowns, as well as 51 receptions for 610 yards and 3 touchdowns. Amazing production for a player in his first full season.


Kenny doesn’t have great speed that will necessarily scare teams, but he does have enough speed. He can hit gaps with precision and burst that can make him hard to stop even though he doesn’t have that crazy straight-line speed.


Vision is up there for one of his best traits based on the 2019 tape. He consistently stayed patient in his reads of the first and second levels, waiting for his blocks to form, and then attacking the gaps that appeared. He had a great combination of patience and alertness to where this is a massive strength for him.

This clip from the 2019 Cotton Bowl game against Penn State shows that great vision he possesses.


Another one of Gainwell’s best traits was his elusiveness. His quick change of direction and light feet made him very hard to contain in open space. He had a lot of success in 1-on-1 situations with the defense because of his mentality to never go down until he had exhausted all option to elude the tackler.


Kenny’s strength is somewhat limited because of his smaller frame but I wouldn’t necessarily consider this a knock on him because his style of play doesn’t require strength. He relies on other facets of the game to eliminate his limited strength to really be a factor.

Receiving Ability

As receiving is becoming more of an important trait for NFL running backs to possess, Kenneth Gainwell passes with flying colors. He shows the ability to receive the ball out of the backfield, as well as lining up out wide or in the slot as a receiver. He has solid hands and route running ability in either situation, and can also make a lot happen after the catch with his playmaking ability.

Here against Tulane, he runs a slick route out of the backfield and flashes his receiving ability.


For a smaller player in the backfield, he really showed ambition and willingness to block for his quarterback in pass protecting sets, which is terrific to see out of a running back who loves having the ball in his hands. He uses his legs to drive at pass rushers in order to win the battle, instead of relying on arm strength, showcasing good technique.


Similarly to his evaluation on elusiveness, he uses his precise agility in the short field to escape tackles. He generally stays light on his feet in order to stay agile and make quick cuts at full speed or while behind the line of scrimmage to make the most out of every play.

Ball Protection

I definitely think ball protection is something Kenny could work on. He sometimes carried the ball a little loose, especially around the goal line but this is something that can easily be fixed so not too worried about this aspect of his game.

2020 Season and 2021 NFL Draft Outlook

Kenny Gainwell performed great in 2019 and based on that alone, he puts himself well into the conversation of being a pick within the top three rounds of the next year’s draft. He could repeat what he did last season, show no improvement and still turn out to at least be a late day two pick. This is why he is so exciting of a prospect in my eyes. If he does progress this season and show improvement being the real star of the backfield now, he can easily place himself as one of the top running backs in the 2021 class.

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(Photo courtesy of Memphis Tigers Football)

Nick Lamattina

Pro Football Magazine Summer Intern.

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