Eric Gray kicked off the early July signing bonanza, choosing Michigan over college football luminaries Alabama and Penn State.
He also joined California native Zach Charbonnet — I’ll be watching him live this season — as the second 4-star running back of the 2019 class.
While Charbonnet appears to be molded after the Brandon Minor’s or (sigh) Ty Isaac’s of the world, Gray’s closest doppelganger is current co-starter Chris Evans.
First off, both demonstrate good, not elite, speed. Gray recently ran a laser-timed 4.57 40-yard dash at the Opening Finals. Evans’ ESPN profile clocks him at 4.66 seconds.
They share the same build — both standing 5-foot-11. Before hitting the collegiate weight room, Evans weighed 186 pounds, while Gray tips the scale at 191. Beyond simple height-weight measurables, look at Evans in his first game as a freshman.
Now look at Gray, who is coming off his junior year in high school.
Both are cut above the waist, but slight and lanky below it. Not that it matters, because they both use those pistons for remarkable lateral running.
You see all you need to see in the first play of Gray’s junior tape.
Gray makes four cuts, gets low and accelerates out of each one. After spinning out of the first tackle, he makes up about five yards of lateral space in an instant, giving him the space to break away. He finishes off the run a la Barry Sanders against the Cowboys, showing the stamina to string together cut after cut without losing steam.
Now watch Evans his freshman year, as he nearly saved the Orange Bowl against Florida State. Play starts at 2:59.
Like Gray in his tape, Evans makes an open-field juke to make the Seminole defender look silly. After that, he reaches another gear to beat current San Francisco 49er Tarvarus McFadden to the corner.
Gray and Evans both like to weave around defenses. At 1:35 of Gray’s tape, watch him take an incredibly sharp angle to cut across the defense, which sets up his blockers like a picket fence to escort him for the score. All this is possible due to two jukes in traffic.
It’s often said if the blocking is perfect on a play, that means the running back still has to beat someone to break off a touchdown. Gray does this time and again.
(0:57 is most relevant. Enjoy the rest.)
Evans broke off several long runs last year, from the two long touchdowns against Minnesota to the game-clinching touchdown at Purdue. Watch how he makes a subtle change of direction against an over-aggressive Boilermaker safety and kicks it up a notch to score.
The only discernible difference between the two (besides Evans’ Fresh Prince high-top) is the high school production. As a senior, Evans tallied a solid 1,115 yards on the ground, 511 yards receiving and 19 total touchdowns.
Gray almost tripled that output as a junior. Gray ran for 3,151 yards (about 1.8 miles) on a 9.7 per carry average. He scored 45 rushing touchdowns and chipped in three more through the air.
By the way, he only ran for 2,215 yards and 38 touchdowns as a sophomore. Right now, he’s 16 rushing scores away from reaching the century mark for his career.
In short, Gray’s trajectory looks similar to Evans’. The last two seasons, Evans thrived as a shiftier alternative to either De’Veon Smith or Karan Higdon. With the more powerful Charbonnet in the fold, Gray can fill the role of the proverbial change-of-pace back that motors past defenders bracing for impact.