The Green Bay Packers recently met with Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell. I’m sure this will make fans sigh at first, but hear me out — drafting Gainwell in the fourth or fifth round would be a great move by the Packers at little cost.
At 5’11”,195 lbs, Gainwell is by no means a big running back, but he plays a very similar role to Christian McCaffrey. Gainwell had 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground along with 610 receiving yards and three touchdowns through the air two years ago. He also became the first FBS player to have 200 receiving yards and 100 rushing yards in a game since 1997. Gainwell’s breakaway speed and ability to catch the ball separate him from other running backs in this draft; he is possibly one of the most overlooked players this year.
Gainwell also has excellent vision when carrying the ball. He is patient but still manages to hit the hole fast and break away. Check out this clip of Gainwell waiting for his blocks to set up a big run:
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Gainwell’s draft stock fell after he opted out last year because he lost four family members to COVID. He made his decision less than a week before Memphis’ opening game. While that may have initially hurt his draft stock, it may help him out in the long run. Having years off in football can be greatly beneficial. Look no further than Ricky Williams and Marshawn Lynch. Though it took them a few games to get back into playing mode, they both made a considerable impact and returned feeling better than ever.
With Gainwell’s pass-catching ability, he could also make an impact as a slot receiver. The Packers have Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, so it will be difficult for him to get on the field as a running back, but Green Bay could capitalize on his receiving skills. By putting Gainwell in the slot, it would take some pressure off Davante Adams. Defenses typically become fixated on a running back who is used as a receiver.
He could be used similarly to how the Panthers deployed Christian McCaffrey in his rookie year. McCaffrey split the backfield with veteran running back Johnathan Stewart and was often used as a decoy. He was brought in on fake handoffs and reverses to open up running lanes for Stewart, and it worked. At the tail end of his career, Stewart was able to put up 680 rushing yards and six touchdowns while splitting the backfield.
If the Packers use Gainwell in a similar way, it could open up running lanes for Jones and give him more opportunities for big gains.
Gainwell could help replace Jamaal Williams, who was used as a pass-catcher out of the backfield since he was drafted in 2017. While Williams was never the featured back throughout his career, he was a staple of a potent offense. If the Packers draft Gainwell, he could find similar success.
Gainwell could be the perfect replacement for Williams. They’re similarly built and have the same playing style. Drafting Gainwell would allow the Packers to maintain a similar scheme after Williams’ departure, maintaining continuity on a roster that is mostly the same as last year’s.
Running back is one position that needs to have replacements in line. Running backs have the shortest careers out of any position and are widely considered fungible. As much excitement as there is about re-signing Aaron Jones now, he’s on essentially a year-to-year deal and will not be the same player by the end of his current deal. Having someone in line who could fill this role would be ideal.
It’s always good to have affordable running backs on the depth chart, and considering where Gainwell should be drafted, the Packers should capitalize on this rare opportunity.