Everything was going so well for Kenny Gainwell.
Five games into the season, he had 14 catches, second among all rookie running backs and the most by an Eagles rookie running back in his first five games in more than half a century.
Gainwell had a 4.8 rushing average and 222 scrimmage yards, which placed him sixth among all rookie running backs.
He was on his way.
At least it looked like it.
As a rookie 5th-round pick, Gainwell was on pace for 750 scrimmage yards, which only three Eagles running backs have ever reached – Lee Bouggess back in 1970 and LeSean McCoy and Miles Sanders more recently.
Then he stopped playing.
Not entirely, but other than 13 carries for 27 yards in garbage time of a 38-point win over the Lions, we’ve barely seen Gainwell the last five weeks.
After averaging 44 scrimmage yards the first five games of the season, he’s averaged 18 the last six. And after catching 14 passes the first five games, he’s caught just six the last six games, just one the last four games. And after generating 14 first downs through the Raiders game, he’s picked up just four in five games since.
Part of Gainwell’s diminished role is no doubt related to Jordan Howard’s emergence as a force in the running game. And the Eagles have thrown the ball so infrequently in recent weeks, Gainwell has become an afterthought.
With Howard, Miles Sanders and Boston Scott all healthy last week, Gainwell was inactive for the Saints game, the first time in his career he hasn’t played.
Head coach Nick Sirianni said Wednesday the Eagles are still high on Gainwell and said the 22-year-old out of Memphis has handled his decreased role with the kind of professionalism you’d hope for.
“My message to him is just to stay ready,” Sirianni said Wednesday. “I know he was not active last game, but we still have high hopes for him and we still think very highly of him. He's still here to have a niche on this team, especially with his receiving ability. We just haven't used it a lot these last couple weeks.
I think Kenny knows how much (we value him). It's tough, but he knows how much we respect him and how much we need him on this football team. These things go like this sometimes in a season, where you're quiet, you're quiet, boom, you have a big game. That's the way of this league.”
Gainwell definitely has a nose for the end zone. He’s scored four touchdowns already, and the only Eagles rookie running backs with more in a season since 1953 are Corey Clement (6 in 2017) and Miles Sanders (6 in 2019). Only the Steelers’ Najee Harris – a 1st-round pick out of Alabama – has scored more this year.
With Howard out for the Eagles’ game against the Giants Sunday at the Meadowlands, Gainwell will be active again. What kind of role will he have? That remains to be seen, although Sirianni is confident at some point Gainwell will be back in the rotation.
“We're going to need him,” he said. “Just keeping him into it, which he's awesome (at). He's an awesome kid. He'll be into it and ready to go when his number is called.”
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