The quest to find Miles Sanders’ perfect backfield mate may be over. Finally. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted Kenneth Gainwell in the fifth round (150th overall) on Saturday in a move hailed as a steal by most experts.
The dual-threat running back out of Memphis opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns but his old tape showed an electric player, one who grew up a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Gainwell was a certifiable game-breaker in college who drew comparisons to Christian McCaffrey for his “dynamic athletic ability and well-developed route running.” (via Pro Football Network).
He totaled 2,212 career all-purpose yards in two college seasons: 235 carries for 1,550 yards, 14 touchdowns — plus 57 receptions for 662 yards and three scores. Despite being slightly undersized, the 5-foot-11, 201-pounder was a willing blocker on passing downs as Micah Parsons found out. Parsons, the stud linebacker out of Penn State, was a first-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys.
— Michael Greger (@mike_greger) May 1, 2021
Gainwell had been steadily rising up draft boards as a potential Day 2 pick, but hangups on his size and durability lingered. That was a fortuitous turn for the Eagles. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds while putting up a respectable 21 reps on the bench press at his pro day.
The Mississippi native — he hails from the same hometown as Fletcher Cox (Yazoo City, Miss.) — was ranked the seventh-best rushing prospect in the country prior to opting out in 2020 (Gainwell lost four family members to COVID-19). Pro Football Focus compared him to San Francisco 49ers slasher Raheem Mostert.
Gainwell picked right up where Darrell Henderson left off, generating 1,466 yards and 56 broken tackles on 229 carries last season. His biggest impact may have come as a receiver, where he notched 51 catches for 610 yards and produced an 85.0 receiving grade. He’s arguably the most talented receiving back in this class, and his blend of speed/agility is top-notch. There’s just one big problem: Gainwell is built more like a cornerback than he is a running back.
Memphis has officially become RB university. Meet Kenneth Gainwell.
Will fit in any NFL Scheme. He can operate as a 3 Down horse or can be used as a gadget out of backfield or in the slot. Will absolutely shred the combine next year. Filthy cuts, great hands, NASTY SPIN MOVES pic.twitter.com/hsIKc62aXo
— Joe C (@JcristianoFB) May 20, 2020
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Eagles Take CB Zech McPhearson in Fourth
Prior to taking Gainwell, the Eagles drafted Texas Tech cornerback Zech McPhearson in the fourth round (123 overall). There seemed to be a unified “Hallelujah” ring out across the Philadelphia region as the team finally addressed the secondary. Problem is, McPhearson projects more as a nickel corner than an outside starter. That means Avonte Maddox will likely reprise his starting role in 2021.
— Michael Greger (@mike_greger) May 1, 2021
Still, there’s a whole lot to like about McPhearson. He played 864 snaps and had a coverage grade of 74.1, per Pro Football Focus, and allowed only one touchdown pass to a receiver he was covering for a 48.2% coverage grade. The knock on the Maryland native has been his size: 5-foot-11, 191 pounds, with an 83-inch wingspan. But that didn’t prevent him from locking opposing receivers down in college.
McPhearson recorded four interceptions and six pass breakups during a dominant senior season for the Red Raiders. He was responsible for four of Texas Tech’s five interceptions and had a role in six of their nine takeaways. Plus, he comes from a family of world-class athletes starting with his football star parents to his seven athletically gifted siblings. Pedigree counts.
With the 123rd Pick in the 2021 NFL Draft the Philadelphia Eagles select…
Zech McPhearson! CB Texas Tech
– 4th in Zone Coverage Grade since 2019 (86.2)
– T-3rd Highest graded CB vs Power 5 WRs since 2019 (90.0)
— PFF PHI Eagles (@PFF_Eagles) May 1, 2021
Making the Most of All Those Day 3 Picks
The Eagles entered Day 3 with the most picks of any team in the draft with eight. It’s easy to scoff and say the later rounds don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but they do. They mean a lot.
As ESPN’s Field Yates pointed out: Among all active players from the 2020 season, 66% of them were drafted in the fourth round or later or not drafted at all. The Eagles can fill out their depth chart by finding those diamonds in the rough.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) May 1, 2021