Vikings

Danny Gray Could Be the Deep Threat the Vikings Need

Photo Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings have been blessed with steady production from the wide receiver position for the past seven years. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs both outperformed their draft slots by a significant margin. Not to mention, first-round pick Justin Jefferson has taken the league by storm early in his professional career. Add in a couple of late-round receivers who have been providing quality depth in K.J. Osborn and Olabisi Johnson, and you’ve got yourself an above-average group of wideouts.

Despite all the quality depth Minnesota has at wide receiver, there’s not a lot of positional versatility these players offer outside of Jefferson and Thielen. Osborn and Johnson are slot guys, and Ihmir Smith-Marsette isn’t a consistent deep threat yet. Beyond those three, you have an assortment of practice-squad-caliber players who are unlikely to make the final 53-man roster.

The Vikings could use a wide receiver who can take the top off of opposing defenses. They recently met with speedy SMU wide receiver Danny Gray, ranked as the No. 64-overall player in this year’s draft, and the No. 8 wide receiver by Hall of Famer Gil Brandt. Not only did he clock in a 4.33 40 time at the combine (T-sixth-fastest among all participants), he was also a state champion in Texas, running the 100-meter dash and the 4×100-meter relay. Texas is the second-most populated state in the country, so that is a distinctive honor.

Therefore, it should be no surprise that Gray is an above-average athlete for his position. His RAS score is held up by his exceptionally quick 40-yard dash and split times, along with a great performance at the broad jump. However, he tested poorly on the three-cone drill and the shuttle run, which is concerning. For those who are unaware, the three-cone drill is designed to test a player’s acceleration and ability to change directions quickly. The shuttle run also tests acceleration but places more emphasis on lateral quickness. In short, while Danny Gray has elite top speed, it’ll take him a significant amount of time to reach it.

Regardless of how well someone performs at the combine or their pro day, it’s only one part of the equation that determines success in the NFL. It’s important to watch some film to better understand Gray as a player. One of the things that stood out when watching him is just how well he can track the deep ball. Gray (No. 5) blazes past his man in single coverage in the video below, but Mordecai underthrows the ball. Fortunately, he threw it close enough to Gray for him to make an adjustment and a catch.

Gray also has potential as a threat after the catch. SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee loved using him as a gadget player, frequently motioning him across the line of scrimmage and making him the primary read on RPOs. The next clip showcases his YAC ability on a play-action screen pass. Gray can use his elusiveness on second-and-five to pick up the first down.

Another thing I like about Gray is that he has shown that he can find soft spots in zones. Outside of route-running ability, this is probably the most important skill for a receiver trying to create separation. I don’t want you to focus on where the ball was thrown, but watch what Gray did on this play. He was running a short crossing route until he noticed a hole in the short-middle of the field, so he just sat in that zone with nobody covering him, waiting for a possible checkdown pass. Kudos to him for doing the right thing here, even if he didn’t get targeted on that play.

Gray will need to do a lot more of that if he wants to be a consistent threat in the passing game because his route tree is severely limited. In all of the games I watched, he only ran crossing routes, in routes, go routes, slants, and screens. Because of this, he wasn’t as involved in the passing game as you would like. Despite being the most athletically gifted player on offense, Gray only ranked third on his team in receptions behind Rashee Rice and Reggie Roberson Jr. Rice is currently the 126th-ranked WR in the 2023 draft class, while Roberson is projected to be a fifth-round pick in this year’s draft class.

Gray also drops his fair share of passes, in large part because of his habit of catching the ball with his torso. During his time at SMU, Gray caught 82 passes with a meager 66.7% catch rate. Adding to that concern is that this problem only seems to be getting worse. In 2021 his drop rate increased from 8.3% to 12.5%.

Additionally, Gray is not the most physical player, which gets highlighted when he is playing against press coverage and when he’s assigned to run block. He is pretty bad at both. The run play below got blown up because of how lackadaisical Gray is as a blocker.

Finally, Gray struggled academically, which is concerning. Most players who are considered raw prospects who also struggle academically generally don’t last very long in the league, and Gray is most definitely a developmental project at WR.

Danny Gray reminds me of Dillion Mitchell. Both are deep threats who are above-average athletes but are still very raw prospects. While it is true that the Vikings need another bona fide deep threat in the passing game who can punish opponents for double-teaming Jefferson, I don’t think Gray is the kind of player who can be immediately relied upon. Minnesota should wait until at least the fifth round before they consider drafting Gray, and it should come with the expectation that he’s not going to contribute right away.

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