I wasn't in love with Cyrus Gray initially. He looked like a good athlete, appeared to be a quick player, and had decent speed. But watching him from the quarterback position I wasn't really wowed by the film I saw. Don't get me wrong, I felt Gray was a player the Irish should go after and would have been a great addition to this class. He was ranked in my Top 200, but I didn't consider him an elite player. To me Gray was more of a scat back and return man. About a month ago I was able to watch some better film of Gray during his senior year. My thought then was "Boy was I wrong about Cyrus Gray."
There was never a question about Gray's athletic ability. The thing that turned me off when watching his film is that he doesn't consistently hit the hole aggressively. It has nothing to do with toughness or lack of athletic ability. It had everything to do with the fact he was playing quarterback and was running the spread offense. It wasn't an every down thing, but something I saw enough of to raise concerns about how well he would adjust to playing running back in college. I liked what I saw of Gray, but he didn't impress me the way guys like Darrell Scott, Jermie Calhoun, Milton Knox, and Devoe Torrance. That has changed over the last month after watching more film of Gray.
There is much to like about the DeSoto High School product. One ability that does jump out at me when watching Gray's film is his foot quickness. Gray has very quick feet and is able to make cuts quickly, without breaking down or changing speed. He's got very good stop-and-go ability. Gray is not a long strider, which helps his tremendous cutting ability. What it also does is make his speed a bit deceiving. He doesn't always look like he's moving but he gets a crease and he is flat gone! Gray is very dangerous in the open field and is a threat to hit a home run every time he touches the ball. You have to love a player who has this ability, especially a player like Gray who can get touches out of the backfield, as a pass catcher, and as a return man.
Speed and agility aren't the only skills that attribute to Gray's success. Cyrus has very good vision, which is arguably the biggest requirement for any good back. Any back can see a hole in front of him and hit it fast. What makes players like Gray special is that they can see what is happening in front of them, anticipate or see where the opening will be, and hit it as soon as it is open.
While he needs to be more consistent in aggressively attacking downhill, Gray shows the ability to see the play developing and make good decisions with his cuts from the backfield. The Texas native shows even better vision in open field. This is what makes him truly the most dangerous as a player. Gray is able to make great cuts off of defenders that I don't think he can even see. He also does a very good job setting up his downfield blocks. He bobs and weaves until he sees a crease and then takes off for big plays. Cyrus also shows very good balance and runs with a good, athletic forward lean.
The more I watched Gray on film the more I saw how physical he was as well. While he isn't a bulldozer, he is a physical runner for someone his size. Gray runs through arm tackles without slowing down. You will have to hit him square to bring him down or be sure that you have a couple of friends with you to make the tackle. What is even more impressive is how smart he is with contact. If Gray needs to get extra yardage or is close to a first down he will lower his shoulder and deliver a blow. But if he is in the open field, has gotten the first down, and knows there is nowhere else to go he will step out of bounds. There is no reason for any skill player to take a hit when he doesn't have to.
Gray is a versatile football player. He's got the skill set and size to be a productive running back. He has the hands and athletic potential to be a wide receiver. I'd prefer to see him as a running back; there is no doubt about that. But the one area where I get the most excited with Cyrus Gray is his ability as a punt returner. It can be hard to find a dominant punt returner. Unlike on kickoffs, the punt return often times comes down to a player having the speed, agility, ability to break tackles, and sixth sense (for lack of a better phrase) to find an opening and explode through it. I've always believed it's harder to find a great punt returner than it is a kick returner. Gray shows me outstanding potential to be a dynamic punt returner.
As I discussed earlier, Gray doesn't always aggressively attack downhill. When he is handed the football he shows his speed and explosiveness on a more consistent basis. But Cyrus will have to learn how to carry the football from the I formation and following, at times, a fullback. Running out of the I formation is very different than running the ball out of the spread sets. I had a similar concern about Armando Allen last year and voiced that in my post-signing day evaluations. We've seen with Armando that it can take time to get comfortable from the I. Cyrus will likely have similar struggles. Once he gets comfortable in the I formation he'll have a chance to be a good one. At times Cyrus runs a bit upright. He will also be a bit too high as he receives contact. He'll have to be more consistent running with good pad level.
One need only look at Cyrus Gray's offer list to realize that the entire nation is taking notice of the DeSoto star. Notre Dame, Florida, California, Colorado, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Miami (FL), and Penn State have all offered Cyrus a scholarship. It took me awhile but I have finally realized why. Gray will bring tremendous versatility, athletic talent, and explosiveness to whatever football team he signs with. Gray would be a tremendous addition to the Notre Dame football team. You can't ever have enough athletes. The Irish coaches have done a fine job the last two seasons of improving the overall talent level and speed of their football team. Getting a back the caliber of Cyrus Gray from the state of Texas would be a tremendous coup.
In the Film Room: Cyrus Gray
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