Following his transfer from Tennessee, can running back Eric Gray become the first Oklahoma Sooners RB to be selected in the early rounds of the NFL Draft since Joe Mixon in 2017? Gray has been an explosive high school rusher and consistently one of the Vols’ best players. However, he remains somewhat under the radar as an NFL Draft prospect. Will a season under the tutelage of DeMarco Murray see his stock soar? Gray’s scouting report reveals his exciting NFL potential while highlighting some areas for improvement.
Eric Gray NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Running Back
- School: Oklahoma
- Current Year: Junior
- Height: 5’10”
- Weight: 205 pounds
Eric Gray Scouting Report
The new Oklahoma RB is a dynamic, versatile playmaker who provides a genuine all-purpose threat out of the backfield. How does he achieve all this? Let’s start Gray’s scouting report with how he wins, beginning with his athletic ability.
Although he isn’t the fastest running back in the class, Gray has impressive short-area quickness and explosive ability. Be under no illusion — he won’t win many foot races in a straight line. Still, that initial suddenness helps him pick up more yardage than you’d expect from someone who lacks a top gear.
When you don’t possess breakaway speed, changing direction to help extend runs is imperative. Thankfully for Gray, he’s exceptional in this regard. His light feet allow him to change direction almost instantaneously. As a result, there are multiple examples of the running back cutting and juking defenders out of their skin.
In addition to these athletic traits, the Oklahoma running back has shown excellent contact balance. He routinely breaks tackles and is rarely taken down on the first contact. Gray often uses his non-carrying hand to help maintain his balance when it looks like he is about to hit the deck.
From a mental perspective, he possesses the necessary vision to find running lanes and exploit them for extra yardage.
Gray will be able to separate himself in the 2022 NFL Draft class with his ability as a pass-catching back. During the film studied, there were zero examples of drops on his tape. A solid, reliable pair of hands, Gray also appears to be capable of excellent route running. This ability will ensure that he is considered a three-down back in the NFL, increasing his value during the draft.
Areas for improvement
Although Gray has a broad skill set that will make him a desirable NFL Draft prospect, there are areas of his game that require improvement.
While he is willing a pass protector, he lacks the physicality and technique to be routinely successful in this regard. Defenders often overpower him in protection. A lack of timing means he is sometimes late picking up a blitzer, leading to disastrous results.
Gray’s lack of physicality also poses problems in the ground game. Although he has shown he can create yardage between the tackles with his vision, Gray won’t ever be considered a power rusher. Furthermore, he won’t be regarded as a short-yardage/goal-line threat due to the lack of ability to power through when no gap presents itself.
Eric Gray’s Player Profile
Describing Gray as an explosive high school rusher is a disservice to the phenomenal, record-breaking career that propelled the Tennessee talent onto the NFL Draft path. The Memphis native set a state record with 138 total touchdowns in his career at Lausanne Collegiate School. From his sophomore to senior seasons, Gray amassed a frankly ridiculous 7,901 rushing yards. Those numbers included a junior campaign that saw him rush for 3,151 yards and 45 touchdowns.
Gray’s record-setting ways weren’t restricted to statistics, however. The talented running back was thrice named Tennessee Mr. Football between 2016 and 2018, becoming the first player to receive that distinction. Additionally, he was named the Tennessee Gatorade Player of the Year in consecutive seasons while earning an invite to the 2019 All-American Bowl.
A prestigious talent on the field, Gray also excelled off the field. Boasting a 3.5 GPA, he helped raise money for St. Jude Children’s Hospital by donating his time to tutor math students as part of the Touchdowns Against Cancer program.
With high character coupled with exciting talent, Gray was unsurprisingly heavily recruited by college football programs across the nation. The four-star, third-ranked all-purpose back of the 2019 recruiting class received over 20 offers. Although he initially committed to Michigan, Gray continued to visit multiple schools throughout his senior high school season. The frequency of his visits to Knoxville made Tennessee the logical collegiate choice, and he flipped his commitment to the Vols in late December 2018.
“I fell in love with Knoxville going down there so many times. It was really a family atmosphere and that’s why I chose it.”
Gray’s college football career
Although his freshman season wouldn’t match up to his insane high school production, the running back made an immediate impact on his arrival in Knoxville. In his debut for the Vols against Georgia State, he showcased the all-purpose skill set that will make him a lucrative NFL Draft prospect. His 6 catches for 51 yards was the most for a Tennessee freshman running back since 2014, while he added 7 carries for 29 yards.
In a further testament to his ability to impact the game as a pass catcher out of the backfield, Gray’s first touchdown came on a 13-yard catch against UAB. Despite the early impact and rushing for 77 yards against BYU in just his second collegiate contest, his ability to be a genuinely explosive running back wouldn’t be realized until the final game of the regular season.
Gray emerges as one of the most explosive running backs in college football
On a late November Saturday, Gray trampled all over Vanderbilt to announce himself on to the college stage. The Tennessee running back toted the rock 25 times for 246 yards, averaging 9.8 yards per carry. Like waiting for buses, a rushing touchdown hadn’t materialized all season, but three came at once, including a 94-yard score. Gray was named the SEC Freshman of the Week for his performance. The following week he earned Gator Bowl MVP honors after compiling over 100 yards from scrimmage in a win over Indiana.
With such an explosive end to the season ensuring Gray was at the forefront of college football minds, he was named to the Doak Walker Preseason Watchlist ahead of his sophomore season. 71 total yards in the season opener against South Carolina ensured that moment built before Gray secured the first of four 100-plus-yard rushing games in 2020 against Missouri.
Despite the uncertainty of last season, Gray thrived. He set career-high carry numbers against Arkansas (31) and rushing yards against Auburn (173). Meanwhile, the Tennessee RB continued his all-purpose performances with career-high receptions (8) and receiving yards (54) against Georgia. Moreover, he became the first Vols running back to secure a rushing and receiving touchdown in a single game since Alvin Kamara in 2016.
Transferring to Oklahoma should see Gray increase his NFL Draft stock
Gray ended 2020 with 772 rushing yards and 4 scores while adding 254 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. In doing so, he broke 1,000 total yards for the first time in his career. When he entered the transfer portal alongside several other Tennessee players at the end of the campaign, Gray became one of the hottest targets in the nation, with Oklahoma landing the dynamic offensive weapon.
The Sooners have produced exceptional running back talent, including Adrian Peterson, Mixon, and current Oklahoma RB coach Murray. Gray should become one of the top running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft with a year under his tutelage. Although emulating Peterson as a first-round pick isn’t probable, the new Oklahoma RB has the potential to be a second-round selection next spring.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.