There’s no question the Pittsburgh Steelers intend to draft a running back next month. The only question is who and how early. One prospect they’re talking to is Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell. In a conference call with media one day ahead of the Tigers’ Pro Day, Gainwell says he’s spoken to the Steelers and Atlanta Falcons.
Here’s the tweet from Memphis reporter Evan Barnes.
Gainwell said he’s been in contact with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons
— Evan Barnes〽️ (@evan_b) March 18, 2021
Of course, teams talk to tons of prospects throughout draft season so we can’t put too much stock into these reports. But every piece of draft info is worth filing away.
Gainwell is someone we profiled early in draft season. He was among college football’s most dynamic players in 2019, rushing for nearly 1500 yards and 16 total touchdowns, before choosing to opt out of the 2020 season due to COVID concerns. He said four members of his family died due to the virus.
In our scouting report, we noted his big-play ability and versatility as a runner or split out as a wide receiver. He could be a playmaking option in Matt Canada’s offense. Here’s how we summed up Gainwell’s game.
“Gainwell won’t be the top back fans will talk about the Steelers’ drafting. But I think he’ll fit Matt Canada’s system. Perimeter player who can win on jet sweeps, end arounds, maybe a little option offense. Someone who can flex out and catch swings/screens for the short pass game and finally a back who can win in space. Pass pro won’t be his strength but if you’re flexing him out and he’s catching five passes a game, LBs aren’t going to be able to blitz. They’re going to have to cover him. So there’s ways to mask his inefficiencies and Gainwell isn’t a bad blocker. Better than Jaylen Samuels or Anthony McFarland.”
In his Q&A with media, he compared his game to Alvin Kamara and said his skillset is unique in this class.
Gainwell says he likes to watch Alvin Kamara. "(But) I kinda watch everybody."
— Jason Munz (@munzly) March 18, 2021
"My skillset is very very different from those other RBS in the draft"-Memphis RB Kenneth Gainwell
Gainwell also noted his versatility being able to play from the slot, as well as being a versatile runner.#NFLDraft
— Shaun Chornobroff (@SChornobroff) March 18, 2021
Though he’s not from an elite school, Memphis has churned out running back talent year-after-year. Whether that’s been Tony Pollard, Darrell Henderson, or Antonio Gibson, those guys have made the jump from college to pro.
Memphis will hold their Pro Day tomorrow. Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert are on a Southern scouting trip, hitting up Georgia yesterday and Auburn today, but it’s unclear if they’ll be in attendance for Gainwell’s workout. Pittsburgh figures to send someone, though. We’ll keep a close eye on if RBs coach Eddie Faulkner attends.
If Pittsburgh fails to draft the top RBs in this class, Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, or Javonte Williams, Gainwell is a name to watch on Day Two.
Check out our draft profile on Gainwell below.