The NY Jets are likely to target a running back at some point during the 2021 NFL Draft. And one player who should absolutely be on their radar is Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell.
A three-star athlete recruit out of Mississippi, Gainwell was a standout high school quarterback who also lettered in track. Despite interest from bigger schools such as Ole Miss, Gainwell stayed loyal to Memphis — the first team to offer him a scholarship.
It turned out to be the right decision as, after redshirting in his first year on campus, Gainwell exploded onto the scene with a fantastic 2019 season rushing for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns on a healthy 6.3 yards per carry.
He also added a whopping 51 catches for 610 yards and three touchdowns as he was named Freshman All-American, first-team All-AAC, and AAC Freshman of the Year.
However, he opted out of the 2020 season citing COVID-19 concerns after four of his family members died from COVID-19 related issues.
Nonetheless, he remains one of the best running backs prospects in this year’s class and could be an excellent target on Day 2 of the draft.
Kenneth Gainwell’s strengths
Gainwell is one of the quickest, most agile runners in this draft class. He has electric feet that allow him to make quick cuts and burst into the second level with ease.
The 22-year-old is a balanced runner with excellent vision that should allow him to find success in a zone-blocking scheme. He was credited with 49 broken tackles in 14 games in his lone season of play, one of the highest figures in the FBS.
Gainwell is also an excellent pass-catcher as evidenced by his 51 catches which were fourth-most among all FBS running backs in 2019. Memphis even split him out wide from time to time which likely contributed to his production in the receiving game.
To top it all off, Gainwell enters the NFL with very little mileage having only carried the ball 235 times in college.
Gainwell is a dynamic, versatile offensive threat who should compete for significant playing time as a rookie.
Kenneth Gainwell’s weaknesses
While Gainwell’s speed and versatility should allow him to find success as part of a committee early on, his lack of size and ideal build could prevent him from ever being a three-down back.
At just 5-foot-8, 201 pounds, Gainwell has a narrow body type and isn’t an especially violent runner. He’s likely better suited for an outside run scheme that will limit his carries between the tackles.
Gainwell is also a below-average pass blocker, perhaps a product of his size. There’s still plenty of room to grow in that area and Memphis rarely asked him to stay home in pass protection, but don’t expect that to be a strength of his game in his rookie year.
Some could also see his limited experience in college as a knock against him. Gainwell only played one year of college ball and didn’t play at all in 2020. That could be a red flag for some teams.
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NY Jets prediction
Few running backs fit what the Jets are looking for in the draft more than Kenneth Gainwell. He’s a dynamic outside runner with the versatility to be an effective target in the passing game as well.
In other words, a perfect fit for new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s scheme and someone who could make life a lot easier for his fellow rookie quarterback.
Gainwell is widely considered to be a Day 2 prospect with most analysts projecting him in the Round 2-4 range. That’s about the time when it would make the most sense for the Jets to address the running back position.
The current group consists of veteran Tevin Coleman, 2020 fourth-round pick La’Mical Perine, and fellow holdovers Ty Johnson and Josh Adams. The Jets could use another running back, but they’re unlikely to target one on Day 1 given their other needs.
Gainwell could be a perfect target at the top of Round 3 if he’s still available when the Jets are on the clock at pick 66 overall.
If the Jets are serious about upgrading the running back position, they could probably find the best value in Gainwell.