This reads oddly given all the attention top college players, and their coaches and fans, pay to such things. All the more so since Mississippi State increasingly produces stars who merit the NFL’s underclassman evaluation process.
But what reads oddly sounds utterly sincere coming from Gray. So does a maybe more amazing statement that “Honestly, I don’t think about the league at all. Honestly.”
Honestly, we can believe this Bulldog. Oh certainly in coming weeks, as his junior season concludes in the St. Petersburg Bowl and the calendar turns over to 2017, the pro football topic will come up again. Often even. Because in 2016 Gray has emerged as one of the big-play receivers in the SEC and a legitimate professional prospect.
Gray’s regular season produced 39 catches and 691 yards, with five touchdown plays. For perspective, his yardage would have topped the Bulldog team 14 out of the previous 20 State seasons. It didn’t this year because there was that Ross guy running routes on the other side of the field and getting most of Nick Fitzgerald’s attention with 68, 873, and 12.
Where Gray did top his teammate was the big hits, the home run pass plays. Junior Gray averaged 18.2 yards on his catches compared to Ross’ 12.8. That’s the sort of stat bound to open some NFL eyes should Gray opt to submit his name for a formal evaluation.
Which he hasn’t. Maybe he will, and maybe he won’t worry. The NFL? “It’s going to be there,” he said. Ross of course intends to be there this time next year, having opted for a senior season at Mississippi State which saw him blow past career records for catches, yards, 100-yard games, consecutive games with receptions, and maybe—with a big bowl game—even the touchdowns total.
Ross was one of the ’15 juniors who looked at early NFL entry before staying put. Gray’s play at least makes him a possibility, though most figure he will only raise his stature with a senior season as top Dog in the receiver rotation. It certainly didn’t hurt Ross, where early-entry De’Runnya Wilson did not get drafted last April.
So there are examples of the risks and the rewards. But then Gray is already feeling rewarded after two Mississippi State seasons. Last week was even his personal high point, not on the field but in Humphrey Coliseum as he received his degree. A diploma earned ahead of schedule, no less, which says something about a Dog who didn’t qualify for senior college out of high school.
No wonder NFL talk is so secondary for Gray.
“My thing is I wanted to come here, get everything I could get out of this program,” Gray said. “Because they invested in me for a couple of years. So even when I had to go to juco they still were in my corner.”
Gray talks about graduation, about his development in both JC and senior college, his love for the JUGS machine and how that came about, and more.
As for the NFL schedule, underclassmen have until January 18 to apply for the draft; which will be held April 27-29.