Shortly after the Eagles used their fifth-round pick on Kenny Gainwell out of Memphis, the dynamic running back was asked if he patterns his game after or compares himself to any running backs in the NFL.
“Not at all,” he said. “I’m a rare breed. I'm a different one.”
But there’s one comparison Gainwell might want to get on board with: Nyheim Hines.
Because if there are any hints about how the Eagles want to use Gainwell in Nick Sirianni’s offense, we just need to look at the Indianapolis Colts, who have been utilizing Hines for the last three seasons as a major piece of their offense. Like Gainwell, Hines is a true dual-threat weapon.
“Yeah, that’s a good comparison,” Sirianni said when the Hines comparison was presented to him on Saturday evening. “We like a lot of the things that Kenneth can do. He does have a little bit of the things that you're saying right there -- the ability to go outside and win one-on-one outside against the linebackers, against safeties, to come out of the backfield and be able to do that as well. But then again not always having to do that with him.
“He's shown that he's been really good in protection aspects of it as well and that every time he's going in it's not [just] a pass play right to him. So, he can protect. He can run the ball. I think that's a good comparison. Not to say that we would use him exactly the same way because no two players are exactly alike, but we do see the ability to create those mismatches with the linebackers and the safeties, whether inside or outside, with that player; whether he's in the slot, whether he's in the backfield, whether he's outside. That's a really good comparison.”
Gainwell, 22, opted out of the 2020 season and because of that had just one season of college football as a starter. But Gainwell’s 2019 season with Memphis was tremendous. That year, he rushed for over 1,400 yards and caught 51 passes for 610 yards. He had 16 total touchdowns.
While Hines never had a season with that much offensive production in college, he did have a fuller body of work, playing three college season with good production. His last year at NC State, in 2017, Hines had 1,265 yards from scrimmage and had 2,333 over his three seasons.
There were clearly similarities between their college careers. And the similarities with how they tested in the pre-draft process can’t be ignored either:
The Colts took Hines in the fourth-round of the 2018 draft (pick 104) as Frank Reich, Nick Sirianni took over in Indianapolis and began to use him immediately.
In the three years that have followed, Hines has become a unique and integral part of the Colts offense. And it began that rookie season:
2018: 85 carries, 314 yards, (3.7), 2 TDs; 63 catches, 425 yards, 2 TDs
2019: 52 carries, 199 yards (3.8), 2 TDs; 44 catches, 320 yards
2020: 89 carries, 380 yards (4.3), 3 TDs; 63 catches, 482 yards, 4 TDs
It’s also important to mention that Hines has put up those numbers without being the Colts’ top running back. In 2018-19, Marlon Mack was the top running back in Indy and in 2020, it was Jonathan Taylor.
In Philly, Gainwell isn’t going to be the top guy either. That job still belongs to 2019 second-round pick Miles Sanders. But you can start to see how Gainwell will fit in.
While Hines is obviously used most in the backfield, over his last three years he has taken some snaps lined up elsewhere. He had been in the slot for 118 snaps and lined up wide for 161 snaps, according to ProFootballFocus.
And the Colts have really emphasized getting the ball in Hines’ hands quickly. All but three of his career catches have come either in the backfield or within nine yards of the line of scrimmage, according to PFF. (While Sanders didn’t have those deep passes last year, he caught six passes on targets of 10+ yards as a rookie in 2019.)
Howie Roseman told a story on Saturday night about Gainwell. During the pre-draft process, he was watching Memphis tape for the second time to see the running back again. He picked up his phone to text Sirianni about what was seeing and Sirianni happened to be watching Gainwell at the same time and had already texted Roseman about how much he liked Gainwell and how he planned on using him.
That’s been a big theme of this entire draft process with the new coaching staff. The Eagles wanted to make sure the scouts and coaching staff are working together to land players who fit the visions of their scheme creators. And as Sirianni watched Gainwell from 2019, he had to be thinking about Hines.
“When you're watching guys that are on your roster or you're watching guys with the draft, you're constantly doing that,” Sirianni said. “You're constantly saying how will I use this guy and how have we used this guy in the past. And so, when you watch a player on our roster or that we're getting ready to work with, those are things that are going through your mind.
“Okay, who have we thrown this shallow cross to in the pass? Do they have a similar skill set to the player that we're thinking about drafting, or that is currently on our roster? Those things are constantly going through our heads and, yeah, I'm really excited about working with these guys about the roster we have to do the things that we want to do on offense.”
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