Is Kenneth Gainwell still likely to lead the Eagles backfield in 2023?

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PHILADELPHIA, PA – JANUARY 21: Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) hands off to Philadelphia Eagles running back Kenneth Gainwell (14) during the NFC Divisional playoff game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants on January 21, 2023 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)

Kenneth Gainwell’s postseason ascent was a long time coming if you ask most Eagles fans. Heading into his third year, it seemed as though a promotion to the Head of the Backfield was all but certain…until it wasn’t. A couple of interesting offseason moves have left the Eagles with what could be a wide-open battle at running back, and it’s fair to wonder what this means for Gainwell.

The rise of Kenneth Gainwell

Kenneth Gainwell’s 2022 season was impressive. Despite carrying the ball 15 fewer times than he did as a rookie, he still put up 240 yards, only 51 less than that 2021 season. His YPC rose to 4.5 and he scored 4 touchdowns. But what really impressed Eagles fans was his postseason form.

The Eagles gradually phased Miles Sanders out of the RB1 spot in favor of the Memphis product, Who had 33 carries across 3 playoff games. He totaled 53 during 17 regular season appearances. In fact, his 181 playoff rushing yards ranked third behind only Christian McCaffrey and Isaiah Pacheco. His YPC spiked to 5.48 and he surpassed the 100-yard mark in a single game for the first time in his career in the win over the New York Giants.

The ‘Coming of Age’ moment was a blissful one for Gainwell and when the team allowed Miles Sanders to walk into free agency, it was assumed that there was an obvious heir to the throne…that was until the Eagles signed Rashaad Penny, and later traded for D’Andre Swift.

Both of the aforementioned backs have flashed real dominance at the NFL but have battled injury setbacks. Penny has averaged over 6 yards per carry in both of his last two seasons, while Swift has been a real swiss-army knife during his time in Detorit. There is every chance that Gainwell enters Training Camp with the upper hand, but there is no guarantee he keeps it.

Eagles GM Howie Roseman spoke about his 2021 draft pick shortly after making the call to trade for D’Andre Swift and clearly holds Kenneth Gainwell in high regard.

RB] Kenneth [Gainwell] is an impressive young player. When you watch him and his skillset, he has really good vision. He has the ability to get small and get skinny and he can catch the ball, he can protect. He’s a good player. 

We’ve also seen in this league that you need more than one. It’s hard to roll with just one running back in this league. I think we’re happy with Kenny; we know also that he hasn’t hit his ceiling yet. Obviously, he had a good playoff run, but it is a position we are going to continue to add at. We don’t have a lot of guys under contract right now, so we will continue to look at players at that position and a lot of positions.

It would be reall exciting to see Kenneth Gainwell earn that RB1 spot by cementing his lead status in Training Camp and preseason. Outshining two proven NFL talents is one thing, but against two RB1 caliber players is a very different task and would truly highlight just how high Gainwell’s ceiling is.

Kenneth gainwell
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Gardner Minshew (10) congratulates running back Kenneth Gainwell (14) after Gainwell ran in a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns during the first half of an NFL preseason football game in Cleveland, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/David Richard)

We know the Eagles don’t like to fund the running back position, but there should also still be a focus on developing home-grown talent with contractual upside as opposed to stagnating that growth with short-term prove-it players.

The backfield may be crowded, but Kenneth Gainwell has never had an issue standing out. The stage is set for a Training Camp breakout and if he is indeed rewarded with the RB1 spot, it could well be a season to remember for the young running back.

Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire