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Why Danny Gray will be the most impactful 49ers rookie in 2022

It goes beyond the box score

NFL: MAR 02 Scouting Combline Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We haven’t talked much about the 49ers' third selection of the 2022 NFL Draft, wide receiver Danny Gray out of SMU. Drake Jackson should carve out himself a nice role as an edge rusher. Ty Davis-Price could be the workhorse the 49ers have been looking for, but Danny Gray will be the most impactful rookie on the Niners this upcoming season.

Every Thursday, I talk to Larry Krueger to talk about everything 49ers. We both were fans of Gray coming into the draft and shared why we believe Gray will make a name for himself in 2022.

Here’s why Gray is a perfect marriage with the 49ers:

“He’s a blur, man. His speed translates to the NFL. People might think SMU and he played a bunch of bums. Nope. He played TCU and he ran right by those guys too.

Everybody he played was terrified of him. And I thought out SMU used him was exactly how the 49ers will use him. You have to think, the 49ers and Kyle Shanahan love to take shots down the field. Now you have a guy who can take the top off a defense.

And now you can use Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel on those intermediate crossing routes. It’s going to create more space for them. And I think this time around with Trey Lance, with a guy who is going to sling it, and let’s be honest he’s going to let it fly because he has the arm strength to do it, now, Gray will get those opportunities.

SMU went out of their way to get him the ball. And not just on deep routes. Screens, slants, say hike, throw him the ball, get it in his hands, and that way he can do the work. Gray was one of the drafts leaders in yards after the catch, and you can see why. It’s as simple as guys not being able to catch him.

There are plenty of people who run 4.3s. There are not a lot of people who play at a 4.3 speed. Gray plays at the speed that he actually ran and you can make an argument that he plays faster than that.”

Larry brought up Vernon Davis, who ran in the 4.3s at the NFL Combine, but Larry felt Davis only played to that speed a handful of times throughout his Niner career.

Bigger role in 2022, Gray or Jauan Jennings?

Jennings is going to be your slot receiver who moves the chains. Role figures to be a player that could have a 4/64/1 game but disappear for a few weeks. Both players are unique, but which player will have a bigger role on offense?

Here’s Larry:

“I think Jennings showed his value this year. He’s a chain-mover. When you gotta have it, you can go to Jauan. He got a couple of huge out routes where the coverage was draped on him, the ball was perfectly thrown, the window was tiny, and he caught it and made those plays. That tells me a lot about his character and desire. I have nothing but love for his want to win.

I would say Gray’s the more valuable guy because Gray is going to be the most popular guy in the room because of the space he creates. Kyle Shanahan said his first trait is speed but his second trait is toughness.

I saw some of that toughness on the film. I thought I could tell that he was not afraid. He didn’t play afraid when he ran across the middle. But when I heard Kyle [Shanahan] say that his second greatest thing was his toughness then I said home run.

Vernon Davis ran 4.37. I saw it like three times in his career. He never played to that speed. He didn’t have the ability in and out of his breaks. I never saw it. This guy, I honestly think has Tyreek Hill kinda speed.

The 4.33 is ordinary compared to what it looks like. But what it looks like is low 4.2s. You can see the fear in the defensive backs eyes after a couple of routes out of SMU.

I’m loving the Gray pick. Offensive football is about creating space and this guy creates an incredible amount of space. Aiyuk, Kittle, and if Deebo’s here, they’re going to love Gray.

They’re going to turn around, beat their guy, and last year, there was going to be two other guys standing there. This year, there’s going to be nobody standing there. We’re going to be talking about the big play ability of these guys, but it’ll be because Gray. I think that’s an awesome pick. As long as he can stay healthy, and he gets stronger without losing a step, I think Gray will be the most impactful rookie this year.”

Gray’s willingness to go over the middle and stick his nose in there as a blocker showed up repeatedly and were prime examples of the word toughness defined in football.

We put out a poll on Twitter asking which wideout would have a bigger year:

The rookie is losing 77% to 22% in a landslide, but it’s early. Jennings will presumably have more targets, but does that equal a bigger impact?