Miles Sanders, the 2nd round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2019 NFL Draft, has developed nicely in his first two seasons with the organization. While there are a couple of areas in which he still has to improve and find consistency, Sanders still possesses the talent to be the lead running back that he was slated to be when drafted. However, the main issue so far for Sanders has been health. Numerous minor injuries have plagued him during his two-year career so far, and in the games that Sanders has had to miss the options behind him have left a lot to be desired. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the team added Kenneth Gainwell to their running back corps.
The Eagles selected Gainwell with the 150th pick (5th round) in the 2021 NFL Draft. I was pleasantly surprised to see him fall that far considering I had a 2nd round grade on him, but looking back on it I should have seen it as a good possibility. With his decision to opt out of the 2020 football season (three members of his family passed away due to COVID-related issues), Gainwell only had one season of legitimate playing time under his belt, which was in 2019. So you can understand why teams would be hesitant to select him as early as round 2 or 3 when his only playing experience was two seasons ago. That being said, his 2019 season was absolutely special.
My full evaluation on new Eagles RB Kenneth Gainwell. The most versatile RB in this draft class. I had a 2nd round grade on him, and I’m ECSTATIC we were able to get him in the 5th. pic.twitter.com/3uVctVVMzp
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) May 1, 2021
If you watched my film breakdown video of Gainwell at the top of this article and read through my full prospect evaluation of him above you can see how great of an offensive weapon he is. The dual-threat ability he possesses is a big reason why he’s going to be a great addition to this offense.
= Impact & role in the offense =
I already mentioned how the options at RB beyond Sanders haven’t been great. We all love Boston Scott and how he reminds us of Darren Sproles, but the reality is he’s not capable of carrying any significant type of workload on the ground in Sanders’ absence. Neither can Corey Clement, whom so many fans dubbed as the Eagles’ next great franchise RB after his magical 2017 season. Time has shown that Clement is far from that type of player. Finally, Jordan Howard might have been re-signed, but don’t be surprised if he doesn’t make it past final cuts. Gainwell now gives the team someone who can be relied on as a runner who can spell Sanders during games without there being too much of a dropoff. He can also fill the role as the primary RB if Sanders were to miss any time.
The most exciting impact that Gainwell will have in this Eagles offense though is as a receiver. Many are wondering what exactly the offense will look like under new Head Coach Nick Sirianni. If he brings the same type of system and philosophies to Philadelphia that he had in Indianapolis while he was Frank Reich’s Offensive Coordinator, we can expect both Sanders and Gainwell to be used much more in the passing game, and in more creative ways.
Months ago I made a film breakdown video showing how the Indianapolis Colts used their RB Nyheim Hines in 2020 as not just a weapon out of the backfield but as an actual receiver lined up in the slot and on the outside.
Gainwell will be the Eagles’ version of Hines, and I even view Gainwell as a better prospect too who can provide more in the running game than Hines can.
= Player Projection =
So just how good can Gainwell be? Is he just a complementary piece, or can he develop into a lead RB and possibly supplant Sanders?
In my evaluation of Gainwell earlier I wrote that he will be “a great complementary player in a RB tandem with upside of being a good starting/lead RB.”
In the first year or two of Gainwell’s career, he’d be best used as that receiving threat and RB2 behind Sanders. Just as Gainwell’s presence will help Sanders, Sanders’ presence as a third-year veteran who has made great improvements as a runner from year 1 to year 2 will help Gainwell. I love Gainwell’s vision on outside run schemes and designs that get him to the perimeter, but he still needs a bit of work running inside. Therefore, as he develops as a runner, get him going in the passing game where he’ll flourish and produce right away.
As for his potential as a lead RB, I believe the biggest factor in determining that will be in how he adds weight to his frame. He weighed in at 201 lbs at the Memphis pro day, but his playing weight at Memphis was listed as 191 lbs. He has an athletic build with room to add more muscle. However, it all depends on what kind of muscle he’s adding on. Gainwell could certainly benefit from getting stronger and more powerful, but his game would most benefit from adding more quick-twitch and explosive muscle. As elusive as he is, his straight-line burst and top-end speed are only solid, or good at best. For someone his size and play style, he needs to become more explosive in order to consistently outrun 2nd and 3rd level defenders and become even more dynamic in space at the NFL level.
If I were to compare their projections, I don’t see Gainwell’s ceiling as being higher than Sanders’ simply because I don’t think he’s the high-level athlete that Sanders is. And Sanders has shown in 2019 that he’s also capable of being a lethal receiving threat as well.
Regardless, that’s not to say Gainwell can’t or won’t be one of the best dual-threat weapons in this league. He comes to an offense that (hopefully) will think of and design many creative ways to utilize him and his skillset. And for a team in the Eagles who have really needed an upgrade at RB2, Gainwell is exactly what they were looking for.