By: Bradley Myers
Kenneth “Kenny” Gainwell was a 3-Star prospect by both Rivals and 247Sports coming out of Yazoo County High School in Yazoo City, Mississippi. The 5’8 180lb Gainwell was a jack-of-all-trades during his time in high school. He played quarterback but was active on kickoff returns and punt returns as well. Gainwell helped lead Yazoo County High to its best record in school history (14-1) and a 3A State Championship appearance in 2017. He finished his career with over 8,000 yards from scrimmage and scored 108 touchdowns on his way to securing MHSAA Class 3A Mr. Football and Mississippi Association of Coaches Class 3A Player of the Year honors. Despite having offers from much larger programs like Ole Miss, Tulane, and Louisiana-Lafayette, Gainwell committed to the University of Memphis in the summer of 2017 to play running back.
Pro Day Results-
During his freshman season with the Tigers, Kenny Gainwell found himself playing behind a batch of future NFL running backs like Darrell Henderson, Patrick Taylor, and Tony Pollard. Current Washington Football Team star Antonio Gibson was also on the team but was mainly used on kickoffs and as a receiver. Gainwell still competed, however, and was incredibly efficient albeit on a limited basis tallying 143 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in only 4 games of action. Despite his incredible efficiency when touching the ball, he decided to redshirt his freshman year.
After Darrell Henderson and Tony Pollard departed for the NFL, it put Gainwell in the driver seat to be the primary tailback for Memphis. Ahead of his redshirt freshman season, Gainwell was named the starting running back for the Tigers and delivered in a big way as a result.
During that 2019 season, Gainwell broke out to the tune of 1,459 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns while tacking on another 610 yards and three touchdowns receiving on his way to being named first team All-AAC and a second team All-American by the Sporting News and the AFCA. Additionally, he was named the National Freshman of the Year by the Football Writers Association of America.
While prepping for the 2020 season, Gainwell tragically lost several family members due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and as a result opted out of the 2020 College Football Season to protect the health of he and his family. He declared for the NFL Draft in August of 2020.
Kenny Gainwell is an explosive, fast, and physical back coming out of Memphis. He is an excellent pass-catcher and can even line up at receiver and in the slot. He shows great contact balance, cuts, and can get up field in a hurry. He has questions about size and how that will correlate to workload at the next level, has a small sample size (only one full season as a starter at running back), and has some footwork questions when operating in a system outside of a spread or wide zone scheme.
Despite his weaknesses, I anticipate Gainwell to be one of the more productive backs in this class. At the very least he can slot in as a dangerous weapon in the passing game and be a good change-of-pace option. Despite being a bit undersized, if the landing spot and scheme fit is right, Gainwell has the ceiling to be a featured back. He fits very well with the two teams he has met with (Atlanta and Pittsburgh) and projects to be a good fit with the Jets and their anticipated zone scheme.
I expect Gainwell to go a bit earlier than Gaskin, however, likely slotting in as high as a Day 2 selection or no later than a 5th round draft pick.