Danny Gray already justifying 49ers NFL Draft investment in him

Southern Methodist Mustangs wide receiver Danny Gray (5) Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports
Southern Methodist Mustangs wide receiver Danny Gray (5) Mandatory Credit: Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports /

First-year 49ers wide receiver Danny Gray is already turning heads in rookie minicamp, suggesting the Niners found a gem in the 2022 NFL Draft.

We’re a long, long way from touting former SMU wide receiver Danny Gray as the next hidden-gem find the San Francisco 49ers have had in the NFL Draft.

However, in light of what Gray has been doing so far in rookie minicamp, that possibility is still very much on the table.

San Francisco kicked off its opening rookie minicamp on Friday outside of Levi’s Stadium. And while much of the focus was on the 49ers’ first two picks from the draft, USC EDGE Drake Jackson and LSU running back Tyrion Davis-Price, Gray surely appeared to be the one who stole the show the most.

Danny Gray looks to be most impressive out of 49ers 2022 NFL Draft class

Again, it’s early. The Niners’ first-year players haven’t even gone up against established pro players just yet, and there’s a long road ahead before even Gray winds up solidifying a spot on the 53-man roster.

However, it’s good to impress early. The 6-foot, 186-pound speedster who ran a 4.33 40-yard time at the NFL Scouting Combine earlier this spring is certainly doing that.

Here’s what the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch had to say about Gray from the opening day of rookie minicamp:

"After Danny Gray dropped a deep pass Friday, the San Francisco 49ers rookie wide receiver dropped to the ground.His penance: 10 push-ups.The self-imposed punishment near the start of practice evidently had the desired effect: The third-round pick had an otherwise solid performance in his on-field NFL debut during the first day of the 49ers’ rookie minicamp.After his drop during individual drills, Gray had five receptions during seven-on-seven work, including a nifty toe-tap reception deep down the left sideline and a long over-the-middle grab in which he beat sixth-round cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields."

Gray’s hands were one of the bigger knocks on his draft profile, and it’s still concerning to see that a problem early.

However, making up for it with some quality work thereafter is a great way to get back on the right track.

49ers have a clear-cut role for Danny Gray if he makes 53-man roster

The 49ers have their No. 1 weapon at the position in All-Pro Deebo Samuel, the do-it-all “wide back” who has become a household name, even if some of that is due to his current contract standoff.

Third-year pro Brandon Aiyuk, meanwhile, is arguably the Niners’ best option against man coverage, while 2020 rookie wideout Jauan Jennings proved to be a reliable third-down possession receiver and physical blocker a year ago.

Read More: Danny Gray will thrive more with 49ers than you think

What was needed entering 2022, however, was a true speed threat, someone to take the cap off opposing defenses.

That’s what Gray is intended to be, provided he makes the cut.

Gray might not see a ton of targets in year one, and that goes beyond just being a first-year pro. His role might be a thankless one, but a necessary role nonetheless, which may still translate into a lofty yards-per-reception anyway.

Provided San Francisco’s second of two third-round picks from this year’s draft continues on this ascent, it’ll be a role the 49ers offense benefits from in a number of positive ways.

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