Corey Clement means little to most fans, but he’s a football hero in the city of Philadelphia. That is because, more often than not, a team’s best player is not the one thrust into crucial moments in monumental games. This year’s Eagles team has a roster fleshed out from the stars to the practice squad. One overlooked player, in particular, is champing at the bit for his opportunity to make a play.
Kenneth Gainwell is not a traditional player in any sense. As a running back listed at 5’9” 200 lbs, Gainwell has always punched up a class. Though his cousin, Fletcher Cox, has the ideal size for an NFL player, Gainwell admired a different Eagle growing up, Darren Sproles. After a stellar redshirt freshman year at Memphis, Gainwell received some draft buzz before deciding to opt-out of the 2020 season and prepare for the NFL draft. Even though this shocked some, Gainwell knew what he was.
In his second year out of college, Gainwell has blossomed into a key component of the Eagles offense. He has dominated 3rd down snaps for Philadelphia throughout the season and his grasp on the role of 3rd down back has only strengthened. Since Week 14, lead back Miles Sanders has played 0 snaps in the backfield on 3rd down dropbacks.
Eagles Running Back Usage on 3rd Downs, 2022 Season (Includes Playoffs)
|Full Season||After Week 14|
|Total Snaps||Pass Snaps||Total Snaps||Pass Snaps|
As a receiving option out of the backfield, Gainwell has been his reliable self. In 2022, among all running backs with at least 20 targets, he gained 5.8 yards per target, placing him 22nd. He also showed an ability to make something out of nothing, producing a Broken+Missed Tackle rate of 34.8%, good for T-10th.
Along with earning the trust of the coaching staff and MVP candidate quarterback, Jalen Hurts, Gainwell has produced value running the ball.
When comparing him to all running backs with at least 50 carries in 2022, Gainwell’s numbers shine. He produced 12 Expected Points Added per 100 rushes, good for 2nd in the NFL.
Even better than that, his consistency has been unparalleled, with a positive play rate of 59%. That number was 11 percentage points higher than the running back that finished with the second highest rate, a gap equivalent to the gap from the 2nd highest to the 56th.
Gainwell doesn’t just get what’s in front of him either; he is aware of the line to gain and converted his runs into first downs 32% of the time, good for 2nd in the league among qualifiers.
In a matchup where scoring first and ground control are crucial factors, Gainwell will help assure the Eagles offense stays in phase on early downs while fulfilling the duties of a 3rd-down back. His performance of late may not only help bring a Lombardi trophy back to Broad Street, but may also afford his fiscally-mindful organization options in the offseason.
Miles Sanders is a pending free agent playing on the last year of his rookie deal. Coming off a two touchdown championship game and playing behind the vaunted Eagles offensive line, Sanders has a realistic chance to win a Super Bowl MVP, which might create a market too rich for the Eagles taste. With Gainwell proven to be their 3rd down back, Philadelphia could look to the draft for its perennially deep supply of capable early down backs.