Kenneth Gainwell: Rookie’s Week 1 Role Merits Waiver Wire Add (2021 Fantasy Football)
The Philadelphia Eagles’ backfield felt relatively murky heading into Week 1 following a 2020 season that altered Miles Sanders’ fantasy outlook. Though the second-year back out of Penn State popped for several solid fantasy weeks last season, he also had his share of bust games and endured several injuries that frequently forced him out of action. Questions about whether the Eagles could truly count on him hurt his fantasy stock heading into 2021.
Given Sanders’ inconsistent performance — and inconsistent availability — it made sense for Philadelphia to reinforce its running back room in the offseason. In a mid-round draft pick, the Eagles may have stumbled upon a capable weapon in Kenneth Gainwell.
When the Eagles selected Gainwell in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, his skill set seemed ideal for an NFL offense. Gainwell flashed versatility as a runner and receiver out of the backfield at Memphis in 2019, rushing for 1,459 yards while adding another 610 yards through the air on 51 receptions. His total yards from scrimmage that season ranked behind only Chuba Hubbard, Jonathan Taylor, and J.K. Dobbins in all of college football.
Gainwell opted out of the 2020 college football season amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s possible that his lack of game film that year lowered his stock heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, where the Eagles were happy to land him at 150th overall. His chops as a receiver made him an interesting stash in PPR formats heading into Week 1, as we knew the Eagles would be looking to rely on multiple running backs to keep Sanders sharp and healthy.
If you took a flier on Gainwell, you might have lucked into a legitimate season-long piece for your fantasy roster.
State of the backfield
Though some reports leading into Week 1 indicated the potential for a backfield split between Sanders and fourth-year runner Boston Scott, that situation did not come to fruition Sunday. Ultimately, it was Gainwell who shouldered the load as the secondary option out of the Philadelphia backfield. He took advantage of his chance in his NFL debut, rushing nine times for 37 yards (4.1 YPC) and pounding home an eight-yard touchdown run. Gainwell displayed quality vision with his first NFL score, hitting the hole through the middle created by sturdy blocking from the Eagles’ offensive line.
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/Mj5zl6ZvK8
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) September 12, 2021
Following the lead of your big boys is a basic concept, but it’s encouraging that the rookie found no trouble handling the task with his touchdown dash in Sunday’s third quarter.
Gainwell added two receptions on three targets for a modest six yards. He also had a four-yard touchdown reception wiped off the board in the second quarter due to an ineligible man downfield. The buzz on the player is already pretty high after his double-digit fantasy output in Week 1 — imagine the narrative if that second touchdown had stood.
Gainwell’s college tape and usage on Sunday suggest that he’ll be a reliable participant in the passing game at the NFL level.
The Eagles trusted Gainwell with considerable opportunities out of the gate in Week 1, and he carried the mantle with ease. The 22-year-old rookie did nothing to suggest that the running back opportunities behind Miles Sanders should go to anyone else but him.
Though the unusually positive game script in an Eagles rout of the Falcons may have contributed to some of Gainwell’s involvement, it’s not difficult to envision a world in which he becomes a regular contributor to Philadelphia’s offensive game plan moving forward. Last season, regardless of the game situation, it was clear that the Eagles would benefit from a consistent complementary running back instead of relying on Sanders as a workhorse.
Given his immediate presence on the field — coupled with the competency displayed by the Jalen Hurts-led Eagles — Gainwell should be rostered just about everywhere ahead of Week 2, especially in PPR formats.
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