Eagles analysis

Gainwell lands on list of Eagles' most important players

Eagles running back Kenny Gainwell lands on the top 25 most important list in 2023

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Over the next few weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 25 most important Eagles for the 2023 season.

25. Nolan Smith
24. Quez Watkins
23. Kenny Gainwell

It’s time to see if Playoff Kenny can become All-The-Time Kenny.

For most of the 2023 season, Kenny Gainwell’s numbers were pretty average. He was clearly behind Pro Bowler Miles Sanders in the Eagles’ pecking order. But then when the playoffs came around, he actually out-snapped Sanders 95-76 during the three game run. And out-snapped him 38-26 in the Super Bowl.

After averaging just 24 scrimmage yards per game during the regular season, Gainwell averaged 78.7 in the playoffs.

So after Sanders left in free agency to join the Carolina Panthers, it looked like Gainwell was in store for a much bigger role in 2023. But then the Eagles added to the position, signing Rashaad Penny in free agency and trading for D’Andre Swift during the draft.

How will the additions of two veterans affect Gainwell?

We’re not exactly sure yet, but it wasn’t good news for him. Still, Gainwell is looking forward to what should be a really fun position battle during training camp.

“When I was at Memphis, we had Tony Pollard there,” Gainwell said during OTAs. “That was like a competition role I had to face then. I’ve been in this position before and it’s nothing. Just having D’Andre (Swift) here at the same time, it’s going to help make me better and make him better at the same time.”

Swift is probably the biggest obstacle in Gainwell’s quest for more playing time. But after Sanders got such a large percentage of Eagles’ running back touches in 2022, this year figures to feature more of a balanced rotation. And if Gainwell plays well, he’ll earn more snaps, more opportunities and more touches.

How will the running back touches break down? It’s unclear but the Eagles feel good about their group of Gainwell, Swift, Penny, Boston Scott and even Trey Sermon.

But Gainwell is still expecting to play a lot.

“I’m expecting a very high role,” Gainwell said. “I’m just going to continue to improve my game, stay on top of everything that I have done. But I’m expecting a high role this year.”

As the Eagles get ready for 2023, they probably can’t rely on Penny. While he’s been incredibly productive in his career (he has a ypc average of 6.2 over the last two years) he’s missed a ton of time with injury. Since 2020, he’s played in just 18 games of a possible 50. That means Swift is the biggest threat to Gainwell’s playing time in 2023 but even Swift has missed some time with injuries and hasn’t lived up to his potential.

Of the top four running backs on this roster, Gainwell is the only one under contract beyond this season. So if any player gets a nudge from the front office, it might be him.

The Eagles used a fifth-round pick on Gainwell out of Memphis in 2021. Here’s a look at his regular season numbers through two NFL seasons:

2021: 68 carries, 291 yards (4.3), 5 touchdowns; 50 targets, 33 receptions, 253 yards (7.7), 1 TD

2022: 53 carries, 240 yards (4.5), 4 touchdowns: 29 targets, 23 receptions, 169 yards (7.3)

Part of the reason for the modest drop in stats from Year 1 to Year 2 could be because Sanders stayed healthy throughout most of the season and had a great year, earning a Pro Bowl nod. But it’s also safe to say that many fans are high on Gainwell not because of the regular season but because of what he did in the first two playoff games last season.

Will that carry over to the 2023 season? We’ll find out soon enough.

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