How This 49ers Speedster Fits Into Shanahan’s Offense

August 29, 2022
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Speed kills and the San Francisco 49ers found themselves a true deep threat. Danny Gray was selected 105th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft and many fans loved the pick.

It is a tradition that the San Francisco 49ers carry a deep threat in their wide receiver room. In the late 1970s to early 1980s, Freddie Solomon fulfilled the role of the speed receiver. Joe Montana and Bill Walsh relied on him to bring multiple defenders deep so they could work short and middle parts of the field. 

Then, in the late-1980s to mid-1990s, John Taylor was the speed receiver behind Jerry Rice, the route-running tactician. In 2017, Atlanta rode Matt Ryan’s MVP season to the Super Bowl, but they also had Taylor Gabriel to stretch the defense for Julio Jones and company. The 2019 49ers offense featured Marquise Goodwin in their wide receiver room, who proved to be valuable during the 2019 regular season opening space for Kendrick Bourne, Emmanuel Sanders, and Deebo Samuel. 

Why The 49ers’ West Coast Offense Needs a Speedy Receiver

What do these offenses and teams have in common? They either made it to a Super Bowl or won multiple Super Bowls with Hall of Fame level quarterbacks and coaches. Kyle Shanahan is the son of Mike Shanahan who comes from the Bill Walsh coaching tree. Why is this significant? It is significant because the younger Shanahan runs a version of the west coast offense. In order for a west coast offense to run effectively, the wide receiver room needs to consist of the following: a route running technician, a yard after catch specialist, and a deep threat. 

49ers WR Danny Gray Before The NFL And His 2021 Campaign

Prior to entering the NFL, Gray dominated his competition playing wide receiver for Southern Methodist University. His 2021 campaign included 49 receptions for 803 yards (16.4 yards/catch) and nine touchdowns. He remained productive despite not being the number one option. 

Gray then entered the NFL combine. He turned heads running a 4.33 40-yard dash in his first attempt. Standing at six-foot-two and weighing 200 pounds, it is rare to find a prospect with his height, weight, and speed. The 49ers lacked a wide receiver with his skill set and, eventually, they selected Gray with their third-round compensatory pick, 105th overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. 

49ers Veterans Take Note Of How Fast Gray Is

Right now the 49ers have all three in their arsenal. Where does Gray fit into the conversation? In one of the first training camp practices, Gray lined up against the 49ers’ free agent addition Charvarius Ward. On a deep pass play, Jimmie Ward came over to help his fellow defensive back but something interesting occurred. In an audio soundbite, you can hear Jimmie Ward commenting on Gray’s speed, saying “that boy is fast.” We do not get to listen in on commentary of players often, however, this soundbite caught attention throughout camp.  

Translating Speed Off The Field To Football Speed On The Field

How has he fared in the pre-season? Well, if you watched the 49ers’ first preseason game, you would know who Danny Gray is by now. Lining up in the left slot position, he smoked Packers safety Dallin Leavitt for a 76-yard touchdown, the perfect “Welcome to the NFL moment!” The following week he beat three-time All-Pro, Patrick Peterson, for a 50-yard touchdown. 

Having a “deep threat” puts significant pressure on a defense which helps other areas of offense. Such as the run game and short to intermediate passing games. Gray has the ability to set up multiple defenders and free up other weapons, such as: tight end George Kittle and receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. However, if the defense keys in on the latter three offensive weapons, leaving Gray wide open down the field, he will have his opportunity to punish them. A real dilemma for opposing defenses. 

Where Is Gray Going To Line Up In The 49ers’ Offense?

It is clear that Kyle Shanahan can use Gray in a multitude of ways. Gray can line up in bunch formations, out wide, and in the slot. Now that the 49ers have a quarterback who can throw downfield, the young rookie will have his opportunities to produce. Based on what this article is about, he will have to make an impact on this offense, if the Niners make a deep playoff run. 

If he is featured in the 49ers’ offense, he can potentially win offensive rookie of the year. Perhaps a farfetched statement, however, it is possible to see him take the wide receiver three role from Juaun Jennings this season. Is there a coincidence that in four out of the five Super Bowl wins the 49ers had a weapon such as Danny Gray? He presents a dynamic piece that should be useful in a prolific offense.