The Philadelphia Eagles have undergone quite the offensive transformation over the past 12 months. But with such an emphasis on passing prowess, what’s to become of the rushing offense that led the league in 2021, and more specifically, Kenny Gainwell?
The Eagles have switched lanes
Zach Ertz passed the baton to Dallas Goedert at TE, the Eagles paid Jordan Mailata handsomely, Sirianni found out he can run the ball, and then Howie Roseman decided to YOLO the offseason in a way that gave Jalen Hurts two lethal weapons on the outside. The backfield received little to no attention though, and many of the names currently on the roster could be on the way out within a year.
Miles Sanders is in his contract year and hasn’t really evolved much since his rookie year. Boston Scott signed a one-year tender, and Jordan Howard left the Eagles with a goodbye kiss. The only long-term piece they have is Kenny Gainwell, and he could be the only piece they really need.
Why Kenny Gainwell is destined to breakout
The Memphis product had an exciting rookie campaign, rushing for 291 yards and at times looking like he was going to displace Miles Sanders. More importantly, he caught 253 yards worth of passes and scored a receiving touchdown. He led Eagles running backs in the receiving category, with 95 more yards to his name than Sanders, and 170 more than Scott. That seems pretty surprising when looking back. Sanders played in 38% of snaps, Scott 19%, and Gainwell 26%. It’s clear that they viewed him as the more reliable dual-threat option out of the backfield, and that part is important.
When coordinating the Indianapolis offense, Nick Sirianni helped propel Jonathan Taylor to a 1,169 yard rookie season. However, it was Nyheim Hines who was considered to be the better receiving back of the two, putting up 482 yards through the air and 4 touchdowns.
Behind this offensive line, it’s not hard to find a downhill running back who will be able to decisively run between the tackles. Even if they can’t, Gainwell showed some assertive rushing spurts as a rookie, more-so than Sanders did, who continues to try and bounce everything outside. However, if Sanders can simply follow his blocks and put his foot in the dirt, that’s all that will be needed for the Eagles to unleash their Hines/Cohen like weapon.
This is rapidly becoming an offense that screams pass-heavy game scripts, which means we definitely won’t see that. If the defense is lining up deep to stop the pass, sting them in the run. If they load the box, hello wheel routes and dominant wide receivers. It’s what helped Hurts do so much damage as a rusher in 2021.
When it comes down to it, the Eagles are built to simply exploit whatever weakness the defense is showing. The biggest benefactors of that will be the players who can do damage in multiple areas. Kenny Gainwell fits that mold perfectly and could absolutely be in line for a breakout sophomore season thanks to his versatility.
If the Eagles can come away from the 2022 season safe in the knowledge that Kenny Gainwell does exactly what the team needs out of the running back position, it removes the strain of having to pay Sanders a hefty sum, or spend valuable draft capital on another back, two things Roseman has been reluctant to do in recent times. All the signs are pointing towards a Kenny Gainwell breakout in 2022. The question is, are we reading them correctly?
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