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Second-Year Scouting Report: Kenneth Gainwell

NFL Fantasy



Michael Dolan

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There’s nothing quite like the allure of a promising NFL rookie. Their unproven nature oftentimes leads to ADPs being inflated with optimism, but that same optimism tends to vanish if the player doesn’t produce right out of the gates. This volatility is stressful for many, but it presents a golden opportunity for the savvy fantasy manager who can maintain a cool head amidst the hype (or lack thereof). 


After witnessing just one NFL season from a young player, fans and fantasy managers tend to believe they know what the future entails for a certain player. Even though second- and third-year breakouts are far from uncommon, players who didn’t burst onto the scene in year one quickly become afterthoughts. In this series, a few of the writers at FTN Fantasy will look back on some of the players drafted in 2021, determine what’s changed over the past year, and recalibrate their outlooks for 2022.

Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

After the Eagles selected Kenneth Gainwell in the fifth round of the 2021 draft, he became next up in a long list of Memphis running backs to enter the NFL. While the former Tiger is a bit undersized (5-foot-9, 200 pounds), he was never considered short on talent. 

Gainwell may not have the frame to be an every-down back at the NFL level, but workload was never an issue while at Memphis. During his 2019 season (his final year due to a pandemic opt-out in 2020), he logged 231 rushing attempts en route to 1,439 yards and 13 scores on the ground while adding an additional 610 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. Gainwell’s versatility in the passing game was what made him a particularly enticing NFL prospect. Backs with his profile are becoming increasingly popular in NFL offenses, and his versatility made him an intriguing chess piece for the Eagles and their new coaching staff.


What Went Right

It didn’t take long for Gainwell to carve out a role for himself in Philadelphia. Almost immediately upon arrival, he locked down the role as the Eagles’ No. 1 passing-down back where he finished the season as the team’s leader in receiving yards (253), receptions (33) and targets (50) out of the backfield. The Eagles’ coaching staff made a conscious effort to get him involved in the weekly game plans, and it wasn’t uncommon to see him lined up in multiple spots across the formation:

In addition to his work in the passing game, Gainwell also showed a nose for the end zone when given the opportunity near the goal line. Despite being the antithesis of your typical goal line bruiser, Gainwell was able to find the end zone 5 times on just 12 red zone attempts. He showed an impressive ability to decisively hit a hole and wiggle his way through defenders, and his production in this area could translate to more opportunities in 2022:

What Went Wrong

Even though Gainwell showed that many of his skills can translate to the NFL level, he may have also confirmed the belief that he’s too small to become a workhorse back. Despite Miles Sanders missing multiple weeks due to injury, Gainwell only logged more than 50% of snaps twice on the season, and he topped out at 53% in a Week 18 game when the Eagles were resting their starters. 

When it came to playing the running back position in a traditional fashion, Gainwell was arguably the worst back in Philadelphia who saw meaningful snaps. He averaged just 4.28 yards per carry – trailing Sanders, Jordan Howard and Boston Scott – in his rookie season. Given how well the Eagles ran the football last year, they’ll likely want to continue establishing the run behind a dominant offensive line again in 2022. In order for Gainwell to see an uptick in his utilization, he’ll need to improve this area of his game.

Kenneth Gainwell 2022 Fantasy Football Second-Year Scouting Report

What to Expect: 2022

Gainwell’s fate this season will largely come down to what type of offense the Eagles want to run. Philly led the league in rushing TDs (25) and yards (2,715) last year while ranking second in attempts (550). If this style of play carries into 2022, Miles Sanders will remain the back to own in Philadelphia as he’s a superior runner between the tackles. However, numerous indicators suggest the Eagles want to throw the ball more often this year. If that happens, Gainwell’s versatility and pass-catching prowess could make him the back to own come season’s end – especially in full PPR leagues. 

The dream scenario for Gainwell this year is he steps into an Alvin Kamara/Austin Ekeler type of role and sees the most valuable touches even if he’s not a true bell cow. If he becomes the Eagles’ go-to back in the red zone and on third downs, that could lead to flex-worthy production at worst in what should be an improved Eagles’ offense overall. However, a more likely scenario is Gainwell finds himself in a Nyheim Hines/J.D. McKissic type role where he doesn’t see the field enough to be a reliable starter week in and week out. 

Dynasty Outlook

Gainwell’s appeal is much higher in dynasty formats than it is in redraft. Sanders is in the last year of his contract which means Gainwell could be the most talented back in Philadelphia as early as next season. Even if Sanders is playing elsewhere though, Gainwell’s smaller stature will likely prevent him from ever becoming an every-down back. 

Right now, Keep Trade Cut has Gainwell’s value equal to a late second-round pick. Barring an injury to Miles Sanders, it’s unlikely for this investment to pay dividends before next season. However, if you’re willing to wait and have a second rounder you’re willing to part with, this feels like a sneaky buying opportunity. If Sanders doesn’t re-sign with Philly next year – a likely scenario given their history of paying running backs – Gainwell’s price tag could see a sizable increase next offseason.

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