After our look at Boise St. running back Doug Martin, we turn to another, similar, back: Texas A&M's Cyrus Gray. Like Martin, Gray is the kind of do-everything back that Jason Garrett seems to want for his backfield. The former A&M star is a versatile athlete, having lined up not only in the backfield but as as a slot receiver (Gray also finished his career with 103 receptions, including back-to-back seasons of at least 30 catches). Heck, he even took some snaps at quarterback. Moreover, he's an asset in the return game; Gray set a school record for kick-return yards in his freshman season, including a 98-yard TD against Oklahoma.
As this background might suggest, Gray has enjoyed a varied and highly successful career at College Station. Sharing carries with Christine Michael, Gray played in 49 games (starting 29) and amassed 3,298 yards and 30 touchdowns rushing, 776 yards and six scores receiving, and 2,349 yards and two more touchdowns on kickoff returns. In 2011, he earned second team All-Big Twelve honors despite missing two games with a stress fracture in his shoulder. For the year, he totaled 1,045 rushing yards on 198 carries with 12 touchdowns in 11 games of action, highlighted by an electrifying 218 rushing yards on 30 carries against Kansas.
Here are some highlights from his stellar 2010 campaign (lyrics NSFW) - and another of him in action against Iowa State in his senior year. As these suggest, there is much to like about Gray's game. He has good strength (21 reps with 225 pounds on bench press coming off bad shoulder), surprising top end speed (reportedly had best of 4.40 seconds in 40 yards at scouting combine; here's video), and is an excellent blocker and receiver. In addition to the above Combine marks, Gray broad-jumped 9'6" and scored a 32.5-inch vertical.
To add to this, Gray, like Martin, is a good locker-room guy. He's known as a hard-working, hard-running, team-oriented athlete who will happily embrace any assignment According to former A&M coach Mike Sherman, Gray "is the kind of guy you would want your daughter to marry." On the other hand, Gray doesn't always run with a good feel for what's available on the play, is too quick to bounce things outside, and will dance too much in the hole. He also has a slight injury history, having finished the 2011 campaign with a stress fracture in his left shoulder.
What do NFL teams make of Gray? Lets survey our panel of superscouts to see what they have to say about him (after the jump):
National Football Post (Wes Bunting): 8th-rated RB; 114th overall
A compact back who carries a lot of girth/natural muscle tone through his frame. Does not look thin by any measure and possess the kind of frame that can handle a pounding. Runs with good forward lean, presses the line of scrimmage quickly and is quick to decipher information. Possesses good balance and body control in tight areas with the quickness to change directions, break a tackle and accelerate through contact. Creates a lot of yards after contact and can run through arm tackles inside.
Looks a little more explosive laterally when cutting off his right foot than his left and isn't an overly dynamic make you miss athlete in space. Will get a but "weavey" off his left foot at times, especially on perimeter runs and will chop his feet in order to catch his balance. However, is patient setting up blocks, churns his legs through contact and accelerates well out of his breaks. Showcases good natural power when asked to fight for yards inside. Has a tendency to leave some yards on the field though, will try to bounce plays outside prematurely and not consistently take what the defense gives him. Has experience running from both I-formation sets and from the gun. Looks more natural with a full back in front of him where he has more time to decipher info and pick up speed. Plus, he's more sudden/shifty attacking forward than standing flat-footed and having to make a defender miss. Demonstrates good cut back ability at the line and in space. Can put back-to-back cuts together off both feet inside and accelerates into daylight.
Possesses good straight-line speed, not elite. At times will bounce runs prematurely to the edge and has the initial burst to gain a step, but won't consistently outpace angles in the NFL. However, on perimeter runs does a nice job keeping his pad level down when turning the corner, keeping his feet under him and exploding toward space, using his balance to side step defenders at full speed and break tackles in the process.
Chad Reuter (CBS Sports):10th-rated RB; 104th overall
Inside: Lacks great size for running inside but owns a compact build with relatively thick upper body and strong legs. Runs hard every carry, side-hops to find creases inside and usually falls forward for an extra yard. Bulls through arm tackles to find the end zone or first down. Holds ball high and tight in close quarters. Lines up at fullback in short-yardage situations, churns legs and lowers pads to pick up tough yardage. Won't move piles at the next level, but can bounce off them to keep moving if allowed to.
Outside: Patient stretch runner, presses line but waits for a crease before heading upfield or cutting inside a block. Has enough straight-line speed to be a breakaway threat once past the second level. Sets up defender with a quick cut to either side without dancing, though he loses his balance when brain moves faster than his feet. Uses stiff-arm to hold off oncoming inside-out tacklers. Puts ball in outside hand on runs to either side. Improving his instincts and burst, able to avoid tacklers in the hole and turn on the jets once seeing open field. Waits too long to make a cut on some stretch runs, allowing inside-out defenders to get a hold of him.
Breaking tackles: Not the strongest back in the class, but difficult to bring down in the open field because his balance, active legs and strong upper-body allows him to run through arm tackles. Shows some shifty hips in space, can cut inside or stop short to break the ankles of would-be tacklers. Success as kick returner comes from quick cuts in open field and straight-line speed, also tough enough to bounce off poor tackle attempts and keep feet moving.
Blocking: Does more than get in the way as a pass protector. Stands up to linebackers in the backfield and will deliver a punch on quarterback draws. Lacks the size and tenacity to sustain, however. Willing to take a hit on play-fakes up the middle to protect the quarterback.
Receiving: Uses as slot receiver at times during his career because of his receiving skills, but mostly catches dump-offs in his current role. A threat on screen passes due to his speed and strength in traffic. Dances after the catch at times, does not show immediate acceleration once stopped. Inconsistent adjusting to poor throws, must secure the pass before making a move.
Intangibles: Sherman referred to Gray as a "guy you want to marry your daughter" because of his attitude and work ethic on and off the field. Accepts whatever role he is given on the team, supports teammates who may get more touches. "We" player, deflects praise to teammates.
Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki): 10th-rated RB; 101st overall
Positives: Good feet and nice lateral agility to make quick, subtle cuts (verified by showing very clean feet and decisiveness in off-tackle recognition drills at the Combine). Sets up his blocks and sees the cutback. Good contact balance. Effective stiff-arm. Reliable hands as an outlet receiver—accomplished catcher (103 career receptions). Alert in pass protection. Very strong pound-for-pound. Solid, unselfish teammate—maintained a positive attitude while sharing the backfield with Christine Michael and is well respected by teammates and coaches as a smart, mature, hardworking leader by example. Exhibits strong leadership traits desired in a locker room. Decisive, sure-handed kickoff returner. Improved ball security his final two seasons.
Negatives: Lacks ideal size and bulk. Shows some hip tightness. Does not relish contact. At time wastes steps and does not burst through the hole—bounces some runs too early instead of slamming inside. Runs upright. Average finishing power and tackle-breaking strength. Not overly elusive and lacks an extra gear to kick it into overdrive. Has a 32 ½ inch vertical jump. Inconsistent blocker.
Summary: Productive college complementary back who projects to a similar role in the pros, as he generally will gain what is blocked and will come to work with a team-first attitude, though he does not possess unique speed, elusiveness or power, nor does he exhibit the type of kinetic leg energy or relentless compete level to be considered elite. Was not even the best back on his own team, yet was highly respected with a well-rounded skill set, will hold teammates accountable and could bring positive qualities to a locker room.
ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton): 14th-rated RB; not in the top 100
Competitiveness: Determination and competiveness is just average. Does not always finish runs with the same type of urgency on a consistent basis. Also did not see much hidden yards after contact during film study. Ball can get away from frame and he needs to do a better job of keeping it high and tight through traffic.
Vision/Patience: Overall vision is adequate. Shows good lateral movement to probe for the hole. However, can dance in the backfield on occasion. Also needs to show more discipline to stay the course and will bounce too many runs to the outside. On the other hand, he does a nice job of setting up and utilizing blockers. Also he is an above-average second level runner.
Agility/Acceleration: Displays a quick short-area burst to and through the hole when being decisive. Also shows above-average lateral quickness and can make defenders miss in confined areas. However, doesn't appear to have the capability to stick foot in the ground and quickly transition when making a vertical cut. Runs with good body control and can turn pads to fit through tight creases. Can turn the corner as an outside runner but lacks an elite extra gear to consistently out run pursuit at the next level and hit the home run.
Power/Balance: Lacks a size and a powerful lower half as a runner. In addition, runs with a narrow base. Does not have a lot of power to his game and goes down easily once wrapped up. Also does not show great ability to break many arm tackles at the next level. Won't push many piles in short-yardage situations. Flashes adequate balance to absorb contact when defenders fail to wrap upon and pick up extra yards.
Passing Game: Gets into routes quickly and can create adequate separation against man coverage. Hands are adequate but will fight the ball and have an occasional drop. Lacks size and strength in pass pro and can be overwhelmed by more powerful rushers.
Intangibles: Active in community service. Well respected by teammates and coaches.
Our panel of scouts are remarkably consistent in evaluating Gray; they slot him tightly, between picks 101 and 114, which is right at the top of the fourth round. The Cowboys have pick # 113 in round four, which seems like an ideal place to select a back (especially when considering that they also have another, supplemental fourth round choice). So, that's exactly where I'm slotting Gray on my "little board"--in round four.
In bringing in Gray and Martin, its clear the Cowboys are entertaining the possibility of drafting another back, so we should be prepared to see such an eventuality later this month. I doubt that player will be Martin, who has been rising on draft boards, such that many pundits see him as a late first-rounder. I can't imagine justifying a first-round running back, with DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones already on the roster. However, I can quite readily imagine them spending a fourth round pick on a back. Given Dallas' recent excellent history of drafting runners, if they do pull the trigger on a Gray in the fourth, I'll happily support the choice. In today's NFL, you can never have too many backs.
Next up: LSU DT-DE Michael Brockers