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2021 NFL Draft Profile: RB Kenneth Gainwell

The strength of Baltimore’s offense is in their running backs, which happens to be a strong position group in this year's draft as well

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl Classic-Memphis vs Penn State Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Although J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards have established themselves as the top two running backs in Baltimore’s backfield, it never hurts to target more running backs in the draft.

What was especially absent within Baltimore’s offense was a pass-catching presence out of the backfield. According to QB Data Line and Sports Illustrated, 7.5% of Jackson’s passes were dropped. Dobbins and Edwards contributed a number of bad drops.

In terms of planning ahead, does Baltimore stick with their current setup with Dobbins, Edwards, and Justice Hill, hoping that one of them genuinely improve their hands? Or do they look to the draft in hopes of finding a pass-catching specialist who would thrive on passing downs?

I wouldn't be surprised if the Ravens choose the latter due to the prevalence pass-catching backs in this year’s NFL Draft class.

Arguably the best pass-catching running back out of the bunch is Kenneth Gainwell from Memphis.

Although Gainwell opted out of the 2020 CFB season, he still should remain a high draft pick after a stellar 2019 campaign where he compiled 1,459 rush yards, 13 rushing TDs, 51 receptions, 610 yards, and three receiving TDs.

Gainwell found such success despite sharing starting duties with Antonio Gibson, who had a very promising start to NFL his career in 2020.

Gainwell comes from a legitimate running back pipeline in Memphis. Players such as Gibson, Tony Pollard, and Darrell Henderson have already found success in the NFL. Gainwell, who was arguably better than those backs during his time at Memphis, looks to be the next stud running back to come out.

What does Gainwell offer?

It’s often difficult for running backs at the college level to display the type of versatility Gainwell possesses. Coaches lined him up all over the field in an effort to find different ways of getting the ball into his hands. Whether it be at slot receiver, on the outside, or at his usual spot at RB, Gainwell proved how dangerous he really was as he found success when lining up in those different areas.

Gainwell has exceptional hands for a running back and was relied upon to make very difficult catches in key situations. After the catch, Gainwell is very dangerous as he excels at taking advantage of space in the open field. In addition to his sure hands, Gainwell runs solid routes and understands the nuances of creating space for himself and getting open.

The 5’11, 200 pound back may be on the smaller side; however, he possesses underrated strength while running the ball and also in pass protection. One of the biggest reasons why rookie running backs see less playing time is their lack of experience in pass protection. Gainwell, however, is an experienced pass protector.

Gainwell’s ability to make defenders miss in the open field puts him above many other running backs in the draft. His combination of elusiveness, agility, and quickness make it very difficult to bring him down. He also possesses solid but not gamebreakinig speed. Gainwell had no problem finishing long runs for touchdowns, but he may not be able to do so as consistently at the NFL level against faster defenses.

Nimble feet, good balance, and gap decisiveness are three other underrated traits of Gainwell. What allows him to find so much success after the catch and in the open field is his footwork and balance. Being able to make guys miss and break tackles comes from footwork and balance. The Memphis product is also very decisive when choosing which gap to shoot. Decisiveness paired with really solid vision allows for Gainwell to gain positive yardage on most of his runs.

In the NFL, Gainwell doesn’t project to be an every down back due to his smaller stature. At the same time, Gainwell wasn’t utilized as a traditional running back while at Memphis. As mentioned earlier, Gainwell excelled in many different positions along the offense. Creating mismatches and designed plays for him will be expected early during his rookie season as he becomes more accustomed to the NFL level.

How would Gainwell fit on the Ravens?

Gainwell’s versatility and ability with the ball in his hands, I feel, would be exactly what the Ravens need at running back. Rather than asking too much in the passing game out of both Gus Edwards and JK Dobbins, the Ravens would be wise to spend an early-round pick on a bonafide, pass-catching specialist.

Justice Hill was drafted to fit that role, but Hill has failed to capitalize on limited opportunities and seldom earned snaps on offense during the 2020 season.

The Ravens could be very creative with Gainwell and use him similarly to his role while at Memphis. Giving him reps at both running back and receiver would add a new element to Baltimore’s offense. Elements of explosion, creating mismatches, and versatility are all things that the Ravens currently lack on offense. More playmakers and sure-handed pass catchers will take much of the pressure off of Lamar Jackson to constantly make plays.

I expect Gainwell, despite opting out of the 2020 CFB season, to hear his name called within the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Ravens could be in prime position to take Gainwell in the latter half of the 2nd round.