6 running backs the Vikings could select in the 2021 NFL Draft

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) Pooka Williams Jr.
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) Pooka Williams Jr. /
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Minnesota Vikings
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) Kenneth Gainwell – Memphis /

Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis)


  • Height: 5-foot-11 | Weight: 191 pounds

2019 Stats (opted out of 2020):

  • 1,459 rushing yards (6.3 ypc)
  • 51 catches, 610 receiving yards
  • 16 total TDs (13 rushing/3 receiving)

Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell was setting himself up for a nice payday heading into the 2020 season before he decided to opt-out to begin his NFL Draft process. He shot out of a cannon for the Tigers as a redshirt freshman, racking up over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns in his first full season.

He will likely follow Antonio Gibson’s footsteps as a running back/wide receiver hybrid that carves out a role early on in his career. Gainwell can work in the slot as a pass-catching weapon, but he can still do serious damage as a runner.

The Vikings do not need someone that can tote the rock 25 times a game behind Dalvin Cook, but instead, they need someone who can fill in for Cook when he needs a breather. Mattison was that guy in the past, but his lack of explosive plays could deter Minnesota from relying on him in 2021.

Gainwell is very fun to watch in space with good vision and footwork. He only has one full season at running back under his belt after transitioning to the position at Memphis, but this is not a completely bad thing. He has less tread on his tires and fresh legs that should help him carry out a long career in the NFL.

The only downside with Gainwell from Minnesota’s perspective is his draft value, which may require a third-round selection. For a team with several other more important needs to fill, running backs will probably be off the table that early in the draft.