Philadelphia Eagles: Consistency is key for Kenneth Gainwell in 2022

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

Kenneth Gainwell is a running back who wears the number 14.

That’s… rather unusual, right? I mean, sure, when the NFL relaxed their numerical restrictions a few seasons back, picking out a player by just their jersey number became a fool’s errand, but at the time, players were flocking to take up the single-digit numbers they wore in college, not ones in the teens formerly reserved for wide receivers and quarterbacks.

Unfortunately for Gainwell, his college number was 19, and despite his (presumed) efforts, he was unable to secure the digits from JJ Arcega-Whiteside. So 14 it was, and in a weird twist of fate, Gainwell actually outperformed JJAW in his rookie season in midnight green; recording more overall yards, rushing yards, and yes, even receiving yards than the former second-round pick out of Stanford despite having a very up-and-down year in terms of average touches per game.

Could that trend continue into 2022? You bet; unless JJ Arcega-Whiteside takes to the tight end position like Tyree Jackson before him, his role might just be relegated to move blocker a la 2021 once more. And as for Kenneth Gainwell, the player Ross Tucker affectionately called “Kenny G” during the 2021 preseason? Well, if he can get consistent offensive opportunities, the former fifth-round pick out of Memphis could prove to be a problem for opponents of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Kenny G could be a very intriguing offensive weapon for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Kenneth Gainwell appeared in 16 games for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021, 17 if you count the playoffs. Over those contests, Gainwell received ten or more touches in just four of them, including Weeks 1, 8, 13, and 17.

Sidebar I: Huh, the Eagles had a 3-1 record in those four games; what a strange coincidence?

Now granted, it’s not like Gainwell was given the Boston Scott treatment – more on him later – in Nick Sirianni’s offense, as he played an average of 28.58 percent of the snaps in each of the games he appeared in as a rookie, but for every game where he played 35, 40, even 50-plus percent of the snaps, there was another contest where he played 19, 16, 13, eight, three, or even zero percent of his team’s snaps, as was the case in Week 11 versus the New Orleans Saints, where the pride of Memphis was a healthy scratch.

But wait, it gets worse; after earning consistent play as the Eagles’ third-down back over the first quarter or so of the season, with Gainwell catching one particularly sweet touchdown on an angle route versus the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 7, Sirianni started to move away from that too, instead opting to shake up who played when to keeping opposing defenses guessing.

Factor in the late-season elevation of Boston Scott – told you – who went from averaging zero rushing attempts per game from Week 1-6, to 8.7 from Week 7-16, and Gainwell became more of a fixture of the Birds’ garbage time minutes instead of a regular cog in the Sirianni offensive machine.

If Gainwell is going to take a step forward and become the sort of hybrid rusher/receiver he very much has the potential to be, he’ll need consistent touches in both the run and passing game.

No offense to Miles Sanders, who is a very good pass catcher, but Gainwell is unquestionably the Eagles’ best receiving back, with hands, route-running abilities, and physical proportions much more akin to a slot wide receiver than a bell cow running back. He can line up in the offensive backfield, in the slot, or even flexed outside in tricky offensive looks and produce quality reps on everything from a quick slant to a wheel route or even a jet sweep running across the back of the offensive line. Play him as the team’s lone back, play him in a Doug Pederson-style “pony set,” or even go back to what worked all the way back in Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season and run a Chip Kelly-style no-huddle offense with Gainwell playing a hybrid role.

Sidebar II: Is it too soon to talk about Chip Kelly’s run with the Philadelphia Eagles yet? Yes? Well, okay then.

Assuming Gainwell spends his offseason working on his pass blocking abilities, an aspect of his game that was admittedly lacking in 2022, there’s little reason to believe he shouldn’t earn a nice little bump in playing time moving forward, especially if the Eagles opt to go light at running back and avoid adding another veteran power back like Jordan Howard.

Next. That time Jordan Davis played running back. dark

Howie Roseman has a thing for running backs who can catch the ball. He traded for Darren Sproles at Chip Kelly’s behest in 2013 – another callback, nice – drafted Donnel Pumphrey to become the next Darren Sproles in 2017 and ultimately drafted Kenneth Gainwell to be the next next Darren Sproles in 2021. Will the second time be the charm in the pursuit of a pass-catching RB, or will Gainwell soon find himself transitioning to the next stage of his life a la Donny P, as Ross Tucker surely called him? Only time will tell, but with a more consistent offensive role in terms of snaps and usage, it certainly feels like Fletcher Cox’s cousin could carve out a nice little niche in what should be a very good Philadelphia Eagles offensive attack.