John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE
Some might say the Kansas City Chiefs have a need at running back, someone to pair with Jamaal Charles. But those people would be wrong.
(Late note- Apparently, what's next is cutting Winston. All right then...)
We've all got opinions on what the Chiefs need. CB, DE, WR, and ILB (and QB, but I'm letting that argument live to fight another day for right now. Still too soon for me) are all positions that the Chiefs should address sooner rather than later, whether it be through the draft or in free agency. Some people have mentioned interior OL (I think that's insane, but hey, as Dalton would say, "opinions vary").
(Late second note- and now, RT. Although I'm praying they just like Donald Stephenson and throw him there, I see an OT at No. 1 in our future.)
According to my very esteemed colleague Joel something-or-other, one of the Chiefs biggest needs at this point is a running back to pair with ultra-stud Jamaal Charles. That's a pretty popular opinion, and I don't hold it against him.
(Even though he's wrong. But we'll get to that. Some of you may already know where I'm going with this. The rest of you probably read the title and put two-and-two together. The rest of you... well, seriously, you should read the title of articles. It takes like two seconds. Anyway... )
The standard idea I hear is that the Chiefs want some kind of "bruiser" to create a "Thunder and Lightning" duo in the backfield. On its face it makes sense, right? You want guys who can force defenses to account for different playing styles. Make Jamaal wear 'em out, then have a hammer crush them in the fourth. It sounds wonderful in the abstract.
Reality begs to differ, though. Let me ask you a question; if you're a defensive coordinator, do you like to have an idea what an offense is going to do based on personnel, or do you like having no idea? Of COURSE you want to know what's coming. The personnel chess match is one that's played all game as coaches/coordinators attempt to find mismatches and surprise the opponent. The longer you can keep the opposing defense guessing, the better off you are.
And that's where the problem of a Thunder and Lightning backfield becomes obvious. When you take out the speedster and put in the bruiser, offensive coaches become more limited. The reason Peyton Hillis struggled last year (OK, one reason of many. Boy was I wrong on that one)? He didn't have the speed to go laterally on our OL's bread and butter stretch running plays, and didn't have the burst to make it through the holes when they were there.
I'm over the Thunder and Lightning attack. That was so last year (/tosses hair). What I want is Jamaal-Lite. I want a running back who has the requisite speed, burst, and agility to run all the same stuff the Chiefs run with their studly first stringer. I want a back that allows the Chiefs to maintain the normal offense when he's in the game. Or, to put it another way...
MOAR CYRUS GRAY!!!
I know what many are thinking. That Cyrus Gray is unproven, he barely touched the rock last year, and this is just another case of a homer getting hung up on a completely unknown because he hasn't actually SHOWN he's bad (Stanzi Nation, anyone?). He made one really, really awful "block" that almost got Matt Cassel killed. I've finally gone off the deep end due to the Alex Smith trade. Fair enough, fair enough.
Oh, I'm sorry, did I break your concentration? Oh, you were finished? Well then allow me to retort...
Actually, wait. Before I retort, why don't you go ahead and watch that again, focusing on No. 20 of the Chargers, a would-be tackler. Better yet, if you have the resources, watch it live and listen to the crowd. There's an audible "whoa" from the crowd when Gray shakes Antoine Cason so hard that I'm worried about brain damage to poor Antoine. That's right, with seven minutes left in an utter blowout, Gray managed to make a crowd collectively say "whoa" loudly enough to be picked up by the mics.
One play is one play. But that kind of move just cannot physically be made by most NFL players. Ask Shaun Draughn. Being able to move like that isn't a "lucky play," it's God-given talent.
Do I have your attention? Good. Let's talk.
The GIF above shows Gray has the ability to move in ways that defy physics. But it's not as if that's news to those who followed the guy in college. The guy ran for over five yards per carry both his senior and junior years at Texas A&M, and was projected by many to go much higher than where the Chiefs picked him up (the sixth round).
Gray ran an impressive 4.40 40-yard-dash at the NFL Combine (.02 seconds slower than Jamaal Charles), displaying the kind of speed A&M fans knew he possessed. He's fast and agile enough that his freshman year he was actually put on the field as a slot WR at times (don't be frightened by this, Dex-haters, the comparison stops there).
But this is not surprising information about Gray. When the Chiefs drafted him, the majority of us knew Gray was a guy who could burn. The questions people had were more about the rest of the package: size, strength, and vision. So we'll focus on those things.
On this particular play, Gray starts off horizontally, searching for a hole. You can see he makes a quick decision, finds a hole, and proceeds to use his natural ability to cut and accelerate to gain positive yardage very quickly. If you throw Shaun Draughn (sorry Shaun, you're my example of a JAG running back. I love that spin move, though) or Peyton Hillis out there on this play, you get maybe a one or two yard gain. But the ability to see a hole quickly (vision) and accelerate through that hole just as quickly (physical talent) turns it into a first down.
What happens next is worth noting as well, especially considering some of the concerns regarding Gray's size and toughness. Gray is hit at the 22 but keeps his legs moving to gain five additional yards. That kind of willingness/ability to 1) take a shot and keep moving his legs for positive yards as well as2) maintain his balance despite the hit demonstrates that the idea of Gray being some kind of "non-contact" runner looks to be baseless. The balance is what I really appreciate in that last part. Can anyone think of another guy who is "undersized" but uses his balance to fight for yardage? Names escape me so easily. I'm sure I'll think of it eventually.
Now is as good a time as any to point out something to the "he's too small" crowd. Gray measured in at the Combine at 5'10" and 206 pounds. In other words, an inch shorter and 6 pounds heavier than Jamaal Charles measured. Now I don't know if you know this, but when a guy is shorter, he's thicker (crazy, right?). Gray's built pretty sturdy for a guy as fast as he is. All you have to do is look at him to see he's not exactly Dex 2.0 out there. In the Ravens game he took a SHOT from Ray Lewis and bounced right back up. Dude's tough.
Let's keep looking (dang you, RAC for giving us so little game film on this guy!).
Here we see a combination of everything I've talked about regarding Cyrus the Virus. He quickly decides where he's going, makes several remarkably quick cuts (one of which hurts the feelings of a Ravens defender), and pushes forward for an extra couple yards after contact (a bold move, considering it was Bernard "I've injured every Patriot ever" Pollard making the hit).
While the vision and the willingness to power forward are great, I'd like to again call your attention to those cuts. They are just unnaturally quick. There's no good reason why a man should be able to cut that fast and still maintain his balance. Cuts like that are why, despite him seeing almost NO playing time last year, Gray has me intrigued. You cannot teach the ability to cut like that. A player either has it or he does not (and most don't). Gray has it.
For those still not convinced that Gray is willing and able to fight for yardage between the tackles, let's look at one more play.
Now I hate to bring back ANY memory of that god-awful Denver game, but this is worth seeing. At a meaningless point in a meaningless game (the announcers were actually joking about how hard it was to find things to talk about at this point. Ouch. Glad I jinxed those Donkeys), Gray gets hit a little over a yard past the line of scrimmage. He keeps fighting, keeps churning, and gets a first down. It's not like it was even 3rd down and the yardage was absolutely needed. It was first and five on the play.
That's the kind of guy I want getting touches. The kind of guy whose INSTINCT is to keep trucking.
Still not convinced, or think he's too small? Take a look at his college career. He had over 220 touches both his junior and senior year. He was THE guy. There's a decent highlight film of him here.
In it, you see all the things I've talked about here. Speed. Vision. Toughness. ELITE agility.
I've been on this guy's bandwagon a while now, but it's not without reason. His physical tools are perfect to be the secondary RB in the Chiefs offense (we've got Pancakes DiMarco for short yardage/goal line runs, so no need to fret). Yeah, we didn't get a chance to see much of him his rookie year, but I refuse to hold anything done by RAC and Brian Daboll against him. He's flashed incredible tools in those oh-so-limited chances (seriously, RAC, would it have killed you to give him 12-15 carries in ONE game down the stretch?). Talent is talent, and Gray's got it.
Also, let's think about this...
-An "undersized" RB from a college in Texas, despite a sterling college career and a very fast 40 time, falls to the Chiefs later in the draft than it was thought he would go.
-He goes through a rookie campaign where he flashes potential but doesn't see as much of the field as the fans want.
-He's small and fast but seems to possess excellent balance and vision as well.
-He enters his second season with most of the fanbase not counting on a major contribution from him.
Seriously, why does this sound so familiar? This is gonna bother me all day. Oh well, I know what will cheer me up...
Andy Reid, let me be the first tell you... You want to see the offense not fall off the face of the earth when JC leaves the field? I've got the answer.
MOAR CYRUS GRAY!!!!