5 running backs the Panthers could target in the 2021 NFL Draft

(James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports) Javonte Williams
(James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports) Javonte Williams /
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Carolina Panthers
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports) Kenneth Gainwell /

Kenneth Gainwell – Memphis

Despite opting out of the 2020 college football season, Memphis star Kenneth Gainwell is still ranked highly among analysts, including sixth overall by Pro Football Focus.  If the Carolina Panthers are looking for the “next” Curtis Samuel after he departed in free agency for the Washington Football Team, this prospect is the exact same size at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds and he projects as a hybrid running back/wide receiver at the next level.

In 2019, Gainwell posted an impressive stat line of 1,459 rushing yards, 610 receiving yards, and 16 total touchdowns. However, there are concerns about his size, patience, and vision translating to the pros.

The 22-year old also played only one season of college football. So he may take some time to adjust to the speed of the NFL that also needs to be taken into consideration for any team looking to take him on.

Even with the concerns, Gainwell projects to be a second or third-round draft pick. His unique skill set and lack of college experience would make him a good candidate to develop behind Christian McCaffrey as a rusher while also getting reps at wide receiver.

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If the 2020 season taught Carolina anything, it’s that a good backup option is essential if McCaffrey is forced to miss time through injury. Gainwell has a lot of the same dual-threat traits and would have a high ceiling operating in Joe Brady’s scheme.