Rookie fifth-round pick Kenneth Gainwell has had a bit of an up-and-down season.
He started off hot, proving to be a draft steal from day one. He found the end zone three times in the first seven weeks of the season and compiled 287 yards from scrimmage.
Once Miles Sanders got injured in that Week 7 contest against Las Vegas, Gainwell was primed to take on a heavier workload. But he kind of became an after thought in the Eagles offense over the next four weeks, when Nick Sirianni decided to fully dedicate to the ground game.
Gainwell got the healthy scratch treatment once Sanders returned to the lineup in Week 11. A surprisingly steep fall for someone who felt like an integral part of the Eagles offensive attack.
This past week against the Jets, Gainwell finally started seeing action again, with both Boston Scott and Jordan Howard sidelined. He and Sanders helped pave the way for another dominating performance on the ground. Gainwell himself posted 87 yards from scrimmage and had a nice touchdown scamper.
The coaching staff has been quick to relegate Gainwell to the bench in favor of Howard and Scott, and it appears both will be fully healthy once the team returns from their bye week. But Gainwell brings something to the field that none of the other Eagles backs do, and that’s elite receiving ability out of the backfield.
On the year, Gainwell leads all Eagles backs in every receiving category. He’s hauled 28 receptions for 238 yards and one touchdown this season. Eagles quarterbacks have a 91.3 passer rating when throwing Gainwell’s way and Pro Football Focus has given him a 80.8 receiving grade for the year, fifth-highest among 56 qualifying backs.
While his receiving numbers are admirable and he’s proven to be an effective runner, the most impressive aspect of Gainwell’s game this season has been his blitz pickup. His 76.2 pass blocking grade on PFF ranks fifth-best in the league among running backs. On 17 pass blocking snaps, Gainwell hasn’t given up a single sack or quarterback hit.
Gainwell is your prototypical third down back and Sirianni needs to continue using him in this role, even when the entire backfield is healthy. None of the Eagles backs, not even Sanders, are as well suited to be the third down back as Kenny Gainwell.