Eric Gray - RB - Oklahoma
Eric Gray was a player viewed with tremendous upside during his first two years at the University of Tennessee. He produced at an impressive clip and then decided to transfer to a more high-flying offense with the Oklahoma Sooners. He disappeared during the 2021 season, his first year with the Sooners, but came back hot in 2022. He solidified himself as an NFL Draft selection this Spring, but can he make an impact on an NFL roster and fantasy rosters?
Height: 5′ 9.5″
Weight: 207 lbs
Age: 23 lbs
40-yard dash: DNP
3-cone drill: DNP
20-yard shuttle: DNP
Vertical Jump: 37.5″
Broad Jump: 9-10
Bench Press: DNP
*age is at the start of player’s rookie year
Eric Gray was considered a 4-star recruit and the 3rd All-Purpose Back in his class when he committed to Tennessee. Right off the bat, Gray was involved in the backfield as the second leading rusher on the team, behind Ty Chandler. He was also involved in the receiving game with 13 receptions, 115 yards, and a touchdown. The following year, Gray took over Ty Chandler as the lead back in the offense as a true sophomore. He totaled his first year with over 1,000 scrimmage yards and tacked on 6 total touchdowns. The hype was swirling around Gray and he was a darling in the Devy communities. At this point in the college landscape, Tennessee wasn’t the high-octane offense that it is today and Gray wanted a change of scenery.
The spring before his junior year, Gray decided to transfer to Oklahoma in hopes to increase his draft stock and recognition before declaring. Unfortunately, he somewhat disappeared in 2021. Kennedy Brooks was almost a bell cow in the Sooners’ offense and even rushing quarterback, Caleb Williams, out-paced Eric Gray on the ground. Then 2022 rolls around, Eric Gray’s senior season. Kennedy Brooks left for the NFL and Lincoln Riley, the coach that made this offense so high-flying and explosive, was gone to USC. But not to worry for Gray, as he took on the lead, bell-cow role in this offense and delivered an excellent season. He had 1,595 total yards from scrimmage, including 1,366 yards on the ground and a total of 11 touchdowns, by far his best season. He was honored with second-team All-Big 12 honors and decided to declare for the 2023 NFL Draft as a true senior.
Eric Gray has good size at 5’10” and 211 lbs, and is an all-around good running back. He’s a dynamic runner with a violent burst when he finds a crease. Once in the open field, he utilizes sudden movements and change of direction to become elusive, even when in congested areas of the field. He has good speed to take advantage of the green grass in front of him after getting behind the defense. While his vision can be inconsistent, he is a patient runner behind the line of scrimmage, willing to let blocks set up in front of him.
Additionally, he’s a plus receiver out of the backfield. He has reliable hands and consistently catches the ball away from his body. Also, his ability to run routes downfield is better than most running backs and he is not just limited to check downs or routes into the flat. After the catch, he utilizes the traits that make him such a good runner like his elusiveness and excellent acceleration to become a yard after the catch threat. He’s an all-around explosive athlete.
It’s concerning to see that when he transferred to Oklahoma, he disappeared for the year and was beaten out by Kennedy Brooks who, while making an NFL roster, was an undrafted free agent last year. But those concerns were at least alleviated with his top-tier performance in 2022. On tape, he has inconsistent vision at times, wanting to bounce it outside a little too often. While he was able to get away with that easier in college, those mistakes could become tackles for loss more often than not in the NFL. He also tends to get bullied in pass-protection scenarios which is a glaring area for improvement. Finally, his strength is a weak point in his game. He won’t be pushing piles or bouncing off defenders at the next level effectively.
Pre Draft Analysis
Expected Draft Capital- Round 4/5
Since Gray wasn’t an early declare for the NFL Draft, he is a bit older at the position, being 23 at the start of his rookie year. But he has all the tools to be an effective runner and receiver out of the backfield with workhorse size if needed. And his explosive athleticism will make him a big play threat that can be schemed up touches with big play potential. He will most likely be a 1b option or backup taken early on Day 3 of the NFL Draft with a lot of upside if he were to take over the lion’s share of duties if an injury occurs in front of him on the depth chart.
With Josh Jacobs most likely gone this offseason in Las Vegas, the only running backs of note left on the roster are Zamir White and Brandon Bolden. Josh McDaniels has run running back by committees often in his coaching past and with the other needs on the roster and the depth of this running back class, they could easily wait until Day 3 to draft one. Gray provides a different skill set than Zamir White and the two could be a dynamic tandem with Gray taking on most of the receiving work and possessing the ability to fully take over if needed. The Vikings are another landing spot where Gray could easily slot in with the assumed departure of Alexander Mattison. He’ll be the backup to Dalvin Cook, and if there are injuries he could jump right in with great effectiveness.
Post Draft Analysis
New York Giants – Round 5, Pick 37
Behind Saquon Barkley, there is little depth at the running back position in the New York Giants backfield. The uninspiring group consists of Matt Breida, Gary Brightwell, and Jashaun Corbin. Obviously, the Giants aren’t content with that group but didn’t need an option that would take a significant amount of carries as Barkley is the clear workhorse. That being said, Barkley’s NFL career hasn’t been the perfect picture of health, and the Giants would be smart to have a legitimate contingency plan. Especially so if Barkley and the Giants aren’t able to come to a long-term agreement over the course of the season.
Gray is a fun prospect that showed legitimate talent during parts of his collegiate career. He lands in a spot where he has a real opportunity to earn the RB2 role from the get-go, only competing against Corbin, Brightwell, and Breida. If he manages to put a stranglehold on the RB2 position this offseason, he could provide serious handcuff value if Barkley were to miss time or even into the future if Barkley and the Giants don’t come to a long-term deal. But outside of being a handcuff, it’s hard to see Gray getting enough touches to be fantasy viable with Barkley’s workhorse usage. For Redraft, he can be avoided and for Dynasty, he’s a solid dart throw to stash on a taxi squad as a handcuff.