Darrell Henderson, Tony Pollard and Antonio Gibson have all gone from being a part of the Memphis Tigers backfield to being drafted into the NFL. All three were impressive during their college careers and have made some sort of impact early on in their NFL careers. At this point the unexpected, but real pipeline of the University of Memphis backfield to the NFL is legitimate.
If you watched Gibson and the 2019 Tigres you likely noticed him split out wide at receiver before noticing him as a running back, even though he was drafted at the position in the third round. The reason for that being, Gibson was stuck sharing a backfield with Kenneth Gainwell.
It’s hard to fathom an Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate who is responsible for almost 1,000 all-purpose yards from the running back position having a lack of college film from the position, but that was Gibson’s reality because of Gainwell’s talent.
So who is Kenneth Gainwell?
A YouTube highlight tape of him titled “Coldest RB You’ve Never Heard Of” adequately describes the 21-year-old back.
As a redshirt freshman Gainwell gashed defenses en route to becoming the nation’s 12th leading rusher, gaining 1,459 rushing yards in 14 games and became the third-player in school history to gain more than 2,000 all-purpose yards in a single season. One of the 2,000 yard stars was the aforementioned Darrell Henderson, the other was former Pro Bowl selection DeAngelo Williams. Leaving Gainwell in Williams’ company after a single season of full-time football is just another sign of his potential.
So was his ability to use his versatility against Penn State in the Cotton Bowl. Memphis fell behind early, meaning they were playing catch up throughout the matchup and the game script dictated away from the running game. Like any great talent, Gainwell didn’t let the situation hold back his impact on the game, instead becoming an immediate threat out of the backfield and in his limited reps at receiver, catching seven passes for 78 yards, in a valiant loss to a much superior Nittany Lions team led by potential top-five pick Micah Parsons.
Gainwell left that game impressing many NFL Draft analysts and the hype around him going into the 2020 College Football season was legitimate. I had him ranked as the fourth best running back prospect and thought he was worthy of a second round pick, but Gainwell like many other prospects opted-out of the season, leading to him becoming an afterthought to many as the offseason comes upon us. I am here to say, don’t forget the name Kenneth Gainwell, the gaudy stat lines aren’t a product of a system, they are a result of great ability that will transfer to the next level.
Gainwell’s burst is next-level along with field vision, which he used to carve up Group of Five opponents week after week and accrue over 100 all-purpose yards in the Cotton Bowl.
The NFL now loves RBs like Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey who are as dynamic as runners as they are as receivers, a mold that Gainwell fits seamlessly into.
Gainwell will not be the first RB drafted in the 2021 Draft, competition issues, a lack of film, along with some other amazing talents in this year’s RB class will assure that, but if he falls into the third round, there’s a real chance that whatever team drafted him will hit the lottery.