NFL Draft: Memphis making a compelling case for RBU

Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis Tigers, (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Kenneth Gainwell, Memphis Tigers, (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Is Memphis RBU of the NFL Draft?

As schools reignite the debate around the NFL Draft as to which team is “DBU” (Defensive Back University) or some variation on this acronym, Memphis is quietly making a case for itself as a factory for NFL-ready running backs.

During the last two draft classes, Memphis had five players drafted, three of which were running backs. Tony Pollard, Darrell Henderson, and Antonio Gibson were perfect fits between talent and draft price,  and teams should start to put extra stock in comparable backs.

While none of these running backs are bruisers between the tackles, they excel in the evolving role of running backs in the NFL. All three are still capable runners, have the agility to make guys miss in space, and above all else, they can catch.

Memphis running backs have the desired skillset for the NFL Draft

All three from this group have been able to make the most of their touches on the ground and through the air, and that is exactly what teams are looking for at the next level.

Fortunately, the NFL teams that passed on the former Memphis backs have a chance to redeem themselves with Kenneth Gainwell this year. Just like his predecessors, Gainwell has the potential to be a remarkably consistent and reliable back on most offenses.

In addition to his ability to function in the screen game and with short passes, Gainwell takes his abilities one step further with the ability to line up at receiver when needed.

This hybrid RB/WR player is starting to become more popular at the NFL level. Antonio Gibson, who many believed would be a wide receiver at the next level, was actually a very productive running back for Washington when healthy. Teams should see Gainwell as a more balanced hybrid by comparison.

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Memphis may still have a few years remaining before they fully take control of the distinction, especially with Alabama pumping out starting backs at an impressive rate, but Kenneth Gainwell finding success at the next level could give Memphis more validity in the claim that it is emerging as RBU.