Training camp battles are heating up as we draw closer to the start of the regular season. Late summer is the time of year when roster spots are being won and lost.
My home town Philadelphia Eagles is no exception.
The reigning NFC champs have multiple positional battles underway this training camp, one of them being running back. Miles Sanders signed with Carolina in the offseason, leaving a 57% snap share up for grabs in the 5th best-rushing offense last year. With some familiar faces returning and some new bodies in this backfield, drafters are trying to figure out who will be the RB1 in Philly.
The Eagles added talent to the running back room this offseason by trading for DeAndre Swift and signing Rashaad Penny. The two are the clear candidates for most of the work out of this backfield. But what if I told you there was a 3rd guy in that locker room being overlooked by most? A guy who, last year, led the team in rushing throughout the playoffs?
Enter Kenneth Gainwell.
Gainwell is entering his 3rd year with Philadelphia, and challenging questions must be asked. Given the signing of both Penny and Swift, is there any opportunity for Gainwell on this offense? Should I be looking to move on from him? Is he worth taking a flier on? Is he a ‘value buy’ in Dynasty?
I hope to help answer some of those questions as we dive deeper into Kenneth Gainwell.
Reasons To Buy
Mini Camp Reports
Part of being a strong dynasty manager is staying AHEAD of the news. Following local beat reporters and columnists (Jeff McLane is an excellent follow for Eagles fans/ @JeffMcLane on ‘X’) who are on the ground at training camp can give you the exact edge you need over your league mates. With new faces and returning vets, the running back position has been one to watch thus far for the Philadelphia Eagles.
As of writing this, we’re two full weeks into training camp, and I’m here to share with you some surprising reports.
According to Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks on ‘X’), Gainwell has the most carries (40) and, most importantly, the most carries with the first-team offense (21) among running backs. Reports out of camp point to Swift working primarily in a pass-catching role and Penny being involved mainly with the 2nd and 3rd team offense. This current arrangement should have Gainwell managers optimistic. While it is early, this is noteworthy and a must-follow as we approach drafts and seek preseason dynasty trades.
Gainwell getting work with the first-team offense shouldn’t be that shocking, as he was their most effective runner down the stretch for their Super Bowl run. However, his lack of usage in the Eagle’s first preseason game against Baltimore (resting alongside the first-team offense) is surprising. It shows how comfortable coaches are in what they’ve seen of Gainwell in camp.
Gainwell is someone I’ve watched closely over the last two years. He was always a guy I’ve wanted to get more touches on, and the Eagles have the same idea heading into the season (27% snap share in the Superbowl).
The Eagles’ backfield will be a committee backfield, but if Gainwell continues to see most of his snaps coming with the first-team offense, it becomes easy to see a path for a career year.
The Eagles’ offense last year was 5th in total rushing yards, 1st in rushing TDs, and 3rd in rushing attempts. They love to run the ball and do it behind the best O-Line in football. Miles Sanders put up 1269 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Those are vacated carries, yards, and touchdowns within an offense that looks poised to repeat success heading into 2023.
The Eagles didn’t throw a ton to their running backs last year, as they were bottom of the league in pass attempts to the position. However, when they did decide to throw in the direction of a running back, passes were going to Gainwell. He led all RBs for Philly in catches (23), targets (29), and yards (169).
Now most feel that Swift will take over most of the pass-catching work in this backfield, and only time will tell. But his targets will continue because Gainwell was the best pass-catching running back last year for the Eagles.
I expect this to be an RBBC (running back by committee) situation, but if Gainwell is the first guy up and the cheapest out of the three, I’d like to get my hands on a few shares in Dynasty and at the end of redrafts.
In Dynasty, Gainwell is almost a throw-in piece for most trades. Looking at the Dynasty Pros trade calculator, he is valued right around a 2024 3rd-round pick. Where else can you find a potential starter in a top 5 offense for a 3rd… I’ll wait…
Other players at that price point are veterans like Hunter Renfrow and DJ Chark or unproven rookies like Chase Brown and Darnell Washington. Give me Gainwell over all of them.
In Dynasty, we take shots at guys to win our league. Penny and Swift will cost you much more to acquire, and neither is under contract with the Eagles after this season. Gainwell has two years left on his rookie deal, and if he genuinely is the Eagles’ first choice at the position, the ROI on Gainwell can be huge. I don’t see the risk baked in at this price. At worst, he is a young running back who can catch passes in a great offense. At best, we’re looking at the RB1 with the Eagles and a potential top-24 RB in fantasy.
Reasons to Sell
Rashaad Penny and DeAndre Swift have arrived in Philly. Since entering the league, Swift has finished as RB 20, 24, and 23 in PPR formats. When healthy, Penny has shown he can be hyper-efficient on the ground, leading the league in YPC (Yards Per Carry) since entering the NFL in 2018. Both players have had challenges staying healthy. Swift has yet to have an NFL season where he’s played more than 14 games, and Penny hasn’t had a season where he’s played ten or more games since his rookie year in 2018.
Swift and Penny are your top rotation going into the season for Philadelphia. These two have shown to be effective options for the position, and overall, they might be better talents than Gainwell when healthy.
Jalen Hurts is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the league. Last year, he accounted for 165 rushing attempts and 13 rushing TDs. Hurts vulture goal line work and ran the QB sneak to near perfection in short-yardage situations. The effectiveness of Hurts in the short-yardage inevitably limits a running back’s touchdown upside. There is nothing worse for fantasy managers than being first and goal at the one-yard line, and the quarterback takes what should be an easy 6 points for your running back.
Another way RBs earn points in fantasy is through the air. Unfortunately for those looking to invest in this backfield, the Eagles were tied for last in the league at pass attempts to the position.
I expect this to stay the same in 2023. I fully expect the Eagles to continue what has worked: getting Hurts involved in the running game. His legs keep defenses on edge, and with the Eagles looking to repeat as NFC Champions, they’ll need to utilize all of Hurts’ tools.
For Dynasty managers, this will cap the potential production of all RBs in this backfield. With the volume Hurts receives in the ground game and the lack of pass attempts to RBs, a top 5 fantasy finish at the position is nearly impossible.
“Failure to Launch”
With Gainwell going into his 3rd year, why he hasn’t made more of an impact since being drafted needs to be answered.
Gainwell, in his first two NFL seasons, had Miles Sanders and Boston Scott ahead of him on the depth chart. Scott has been more of a depth piece for the Eagles in recent years, whereas Sanders commanded 70% of the possible running back carries last season. Now, I’m not a Miles Sanders guy. I’ve watched games where he would need more time to hit holes and sometimes will miss them entirely. This ineffectiveness by Sanders is even more glaring when you’re running behind the best O-Line in football. This rushing attack could have been better last season with a more explosive runner. I’m just not sold on that guy being Kenneth Gainwell…
With Sanders being just an average NFL starter (in my opinion), I would have liked to see Gainwell start to command some of that volume last year. I would have liked to see more out of Gainwell in his first two years in the league. Since entering the NFL, Gainwell has never had a season with over 68 carries. At 5’9 200 lbs, he lacks the size of a “prototypical” every down back, and it’s hard to imagine him handling a “Miles Sanders” type workload.
Based on current ADP and most consensus rankings, Gainwell is a must-buy for Dynasty managers. Dynasty Pros currently has him as RB50 in Dynasty rankings. If reports out of camp are accurate and Gainwell is the starter heading into the year, Dynasty has no better value right now. Expect this to be a committee backfield, but if Gainwell truly is the RB1, he is in line for a tremendous season, regardless.
Hurts will inevitably take away carries and TDs, just as he did last year, but even so, Miles Sanders finished as RB15 in PPR formats. The Eagles are a potent offense, and there is plenty of volume for the running backs to share. I expect this rushing attack to be just as effective as last year and for Gainwell to be one of the biggest beneficiaries.
Both Swift and Penny are free agents after the season. Being the cheaper option out of the three, I’m happy to take shots on Gainwell, given his price. If you can get Gainwell right now for a 2023 3rd-round pick, smash accept and thank me later.
Be ahead of this news and pick up Gainwell wherever he is available.
Nick Godwin has been playing fantasy football since 2010. He grew up right outside of Philadelphia. GO BIRDS!! You may have seen him in Underdog bestball drafts (ALWYSSTDY), or in other draft rooms under Always Steady. He plays fantasy to win and hopes to share his hot takes, talk strategies, and most importantly, help everyone win their championships. He’s always ready to talk all things dynasty, devy, redraft and IDP. As an avid fantasy fan, he spends most of his days mock drafting, getting in to best ball drafts, and preparing to dominate his home leagues.