Philadelphia Eagles: Kenneth Gainwell, 19 may soon be yours

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

In college, Kenneth Gainwell wore the number 19.

Is that an unusual number for a running back to wear? Sure. In the pros, numbers in the teens have long been reserved for quarterbacks and wide receivers, but every once in a while, a running back will opt to break with tradition – or switch positions from wide receiver to running back – and roll with an unconventional number, even if they’d eventually have to make a number change when they graduate from the college ranks into the pros.

But now, after a surprise change to the NFL’s numerology that freed up the available digits to (almost) every player across the roster, that is no longer the case. Gainwell could continue to wear a number in the teens if he so chose, even the 19 he made famous in Memphis if said number was available.

Unfortunately, Gainwell was drafted by a team that already has the number issued to a former second-round pick on a rookie-scale contract.

Surely disappointed, Gainwell opted for the objectively lower number 14 and has largely gone about his business making both waves and plays for the Birds this preseason unencumbered. But, in a twist of fate, that may not be the end of the story for Gainwell’s jersey saga. No, with the regular season fast approaching and roster trim downs soon to progress, JJ Arcega-Whiteside‘s pedestrian preseason may soon leave the Philadelphia Eagles‘ equipment manager with a new number to issue and a player who would love to take it on.

JJAW’s loss may be Kenneth Gainwell’s gain for the Philadelphia Eagles this fall.

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Through the first two games of the preseason, JJ Arcega-Whiteside has played 30 offensive snaps.

On paper, that should be enough snaps to make an impression against viable opposing players, right? I mean granted, he wasn’t exactly running with the 1s, but at least he wasn’t taking on practice squad guys and future gym teachers in the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

Did JJAW take advantage of his opportunity? How much, if at all, has he improved his chances of making the team after being on the bubble heading into the season?



That, my friends, is the number of catches Arcega-Whiteside amassed during his first two preseason contests despite being targeted once in each game.

If you’re trying to make the team as a bottom-of-the-roster guy, especially with Travis Fulgham already in place as a backup X, you can’t turn in a pair of snoozers and not have it affect your chances of making the team, especially with robust competition at the running back position and a potential need to keep four tight ends in order to place Tyree Jackson on regular season IR with a designation to return.

The only stat JJAW has to his credit during the preseason is a solo tackle he recorded in Game 1 versus the Pittsburgh Steelers, which isn’t the best look for a former second-round pick Howie Roseman envisioned as the second-coming of Alshon Jeffery.

Kenneth Gainwell, by contrast, has been arguably the Eagles’ MVP so far this season, with the most rushing yards and total touches of any offensive position player on the team. He’s looked great as a receiver, even better as a rusher, and could probably even log snaps at Wildcat quarterback if need be, even if players like Greg Ward surely fit that bill better.

Once Nick Sirianni actually starts to scheme out his offense with the sort of trickery he’s teased out in the preseason, it wouldn’t surprise this blogger at all if Gainwell becomes the sort of transposable offensive weapon the likes of which we haven’t seen around these parts since “The Lightning Bug” himself, Darren Sproles, was a fixture of the Linc on Sundays, Thursdays, and the occasional Monday too.

Could #19 jerseys become as ubiquitous around the Philadelphia Sports Complex in the early 2020s as Sproles’ #43 was back in the late 2010s? If so, something tells me the name on the back will be considerably shorter and lack any sort of punctuation.

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Rooting for a player to lose their job is never fun. While we all develop favorites and not-so-favorites for one reason or another, a ton of players will see their NFL dreams come to an end before the Philadelphia Eagles take the field for a 1 pm game versus the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Could JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Kenneth Gainwell both make the initial 53 man roster and the eventual plane ride down to the Peach State? Sure, but if the former sees his tenure in South Philly come to an understandable end, the least Kenny G can do is take up his number and make good on it becoming a fixture of Lincoln Financial Field for years to come.