Career Recap: Gainwell was one of the most electric players in college football in 2019. While splitting touches with a good stable of skill position players, the redshirt freshman stood out as a dynamic runner and receiver for Memphis. Gainwell averaged 6.3 yards per carry on the season over 231 carries for 1,459 yards with 13 touchdowns. He also was a superb receiver out of the backfield, recording 51 receptions for 610 yards and three scores through the air. Gainwell went under the radar, but he was terrific in 2019.
2020 Season Outlook: Even though extra teams will be stacking the box and looking to limit Gainwell, he should have a big season as Memphis has a plethora of easy defenses to go against in the American Athletic conference.
Skill-Set Summary: Scouts looking ahead to players in their territory for Fall 2020 have raved about Gainwell. Even though he has a few more years of eligibility, Gainwell will probably look to jump to the NFL if he stays consistent with his 2019 play.
Some scouts say that Gainwell's style of play is similar to Christian McCaffrey's, and McCaffrey is the best back in the NFL because of his ability to be a playmaking running back or receiver. Gainwell may not be at McCaffrey's level as a prospect or player, but Gainwell could be a similar running and receiving threat with big-play speed for the next level.
As a runner, Gainwell is an explosive playmaker. He has a first-step burst and accelerates through the hole, using a second gear to explode downfield for long gains. With his explosion, it looks like Gainwell gets a head start over everybody else on the field. It reminds this analyst of Percy Harvin at Florida. In the open field, Gainwell is not just fast, but he has moves to dodge tacklers and tremendous change-of-direction skills.
Gainwell is tougher between the tackles than one would think from the eyeball test. He runs with natural body lean and knee bend to stay behind his pads. While Gainwell is not big, he has impressive balance and shows the ability to fight through some contact.
Like McCaffrey, Gainwell is a dangerous receiver who shows the ability to line up as a slot receiver. Gainwell has dangerous route-running ability with explosion and shiftiness to generate separation. On wheel routes, slants, digs, crosses and screens, Gainwell is dangerous threat to turn a short pass into a big play. He also has soft hands and is a natural at catching the ball. Gainwell is elusive in the open field and can rip off yards in chunks. He is too fast and shifty for linebackers or safeties to cover in man, so he provides an excellent mismatch and will be a third-down receiving weapon in the NFL.
It would help Gainwell to add some weight and muscle for the NFL to avoid injury and improve his ability to push for tough yardage. Like all college backs, Gainwell will need some tutoring in pass protection. Once he develops that ability, he has the potential to be a dynamic three-down starter in the NFL.
2021 NFL Draft Expectations: Entering the 2020 season, Gainwell looks like an early-round pick for the 2021 NFL Draft, assuming he stays healthy.