Sooners running back Eric Gray named to Doak Walker award watch list for 2022

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Just over five weeks from the start of the 2022 college football season, we’re in the midst of award watch list season. This week, Dillon Gabriel was named to watch lists for the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien awards. Joining him is backfield mate Eric Gray, who was named to the Doak Walker Award watch list for 2022.

Established in 1990, the Oklahoma Sooners have never won the Doak Walker.

Eric Gray, who transferred in from Tennessee last offseason, looks to be the favorite to lead the Oklahoma Sooners at running back in 2022 after Kennedy Brooks departed for the NFL.

Heading into the 2021 season, there was a lot of optimism about what Gray might be able to do in Lincoln Riley’s offense. Unfortunately, it never materialized as his touch count diminished after the West Virginia game. After back-to-back performances that saw him rush for more than 70 yards against Western Carolina and Nebraska, Gray rushed for just 38 yards on 12 carries against West Virginia. Not surprising, considering Dante Stills and Akheem Mesidor created one of the best interior defensive lines in the nation in 2021.

Despite the paltry rushing numbers against the Mountaineers, Gray showed that he could be a game changer in the passing game catching three passes for 52 yards in the Sooners’ 16-13 win.

After that 17-touch performance, Gray was kept on the shelf by Lincoln Riley and didn’t see double-digit touches again until the Alamo Bowl win over Oregon.

Against the Ducks, he had 13 touches for 107 yards and a touchdown.

Gray, like wide receiver Marvin Mims, was surprisingly underutilized in an offense that struggled with consistency all year. Though they may not have wanted to take carries away from Kennedy Brooks, they could have gotten Gray more involved in the passing game, especially against Baylor and Oklahoma State, when the offense stalled.

Count head coach Brent Venables a believer in the dynamic running back.

“Yeah, Eric’s been a pro,” Venables said after the spring game. “From the moment that we got here he’s been the model of what it looks like. So, Eric’s been a great competitor and just he makes guys around better. He always has this positive, matter of fact quality to him. Just when he’s calling somebody up, that’s [where] he’s in their butt. So, it’s fun to watch that happen.”

The Oklahoma Sooners have to get the ball in Eric Gray’s hands. Both as a runner and a receiver. He’s simply too good of a player to only give Gray 4.63 touches per game as Lincoln Riley did down the stretch in 2021.

Don’t count on Jeff Lebby to underutilize Gray in an offense that will get the ball to its best playmakers. Gray had just 78 carries in 2021, while three of Ole Miss’ running backs had more than 100 attempts on the season, not counting quarterback Matt Corral’s 152 rushing attempts. Though it’s been characterized as a pass-heavy attack, the Sooners will look for balance in 2022 and Eric Gray will be a big part of keeping the Sooners offense efficiently moving the chains.

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