MarQueis Gray was certainly the best recruit brought in by former University of Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, as he was highly touted by all the major recruiting websites. But his collegiate career got off on the wrong foot as problems were found with his ACT score, forcing him to sit out the entire 2008 season.
Gray played both quarterback and wide receiver as a freshman in 2009, and but only attempted 15 passes as a backup to Adam Weber and caught six passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. His greatest impact came as a runner, with 265 yards on 47 carries, but it was clear the Gophers’ coaching staff needed to settle on a position for him.
Gray played a lot of wide receiver in 2010, and was fairly productive with 42 receptions for 587 yards and five touchdowns. He did see a little bit of time under center, going 2-for-8 as a passer, and also had 110 rushing yards and a touchdown as a sophomore.
Upon being hired after the 2010 season coach Jerry Kill quickly committed to Gray as the Golden Gophers’ starting quarterback, which was much easier to do with Weber gone and no other quarterback with any experience behind him. He started 11 games as a junior in 2011, missing a 58-0 blowout loss to Michigan in October due to a toe injury, completing just over half of his passes (50.7 percent) for 1,495 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also rushed for over 100 yards four times, totaling 966 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 199 carries.
Gray entered this season as Minnesota’s starting quarterback, but a left ankle injury suffered in the first half of the Gophers’ September 15 game against Western Michigan caused him to miss the following two games. He was able to return to action after Minnesota’s bye on October 13 against Northwestern and shared time under center with Max Shortell, going 7-for-11 for 66 yards with an interception along with nine carries for 86 yards and a touchdown. However, he was unable to finish the game after aggravating his ankle injury, creating questions about his health and his role down the road.
But the more interesting development in the Northwestern game was that Gray saw some time at wide receiver, though he had just one catch for 16 yards. Over the past two games with true freshman Philip Nelson starting under center, Gray has seven catches for 73 yards as he has transitioned back to wide receiver completely in an effort to get him on the field and prevent his ankle issue from lingering more than it already has.
Gray’s shortcomings as a traditional passer are clear, and he certainly lacks the accuracy required to succeed in today’s NFL. So if he has a future at the next level it will likely be at wide receiver. Beyond his experience playing the position, Gray’s size (6’4″, 245 lbs) and overall athleticism should allow him to become a full-time wide receiver fairly seamlessly. If he can get shake off his ankle issue and put together some good game tape over the rest of this season, NFL scouts may have to take notice. Some people at the next level may even project Gray as a tight end, though he would obviously need significant work as a blocker to play that position at a high level.
Whether Gray gets drafted or not next April is likely to come down to how he performs during the pre-draft process, and to some extent what NFL personnel people want to see him do at those events. If he is receptive to working as a wide receiver and performs well, a team could be justified to use a late-round pick on him. Even if he is not drafted, someone may bring Gray in as an undrafted free agent and give him a chance to go to training camp.
Gray is unlikely to become an elite wide receiver at the next level, but in the right situation with the right coaching staff I think he can become a productive NFL player. He certainly has a better chance at pro success than the quarterback the Gophers will see this Saturday, Michigan’s Denard Robinson.