Randy Gregory: The Next Great Edge Rusher, If...
The Nebraska product’s athletic traits and relentlessness make him the most tantalizing prospect in this draft class. Gregory will be a great… if he takes well to coaching and, more importantly, keeps himself in line off the field
Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory has been in the headlines after testing positive for marijuana at the combine. That’s a big concern, and we’ll get to that. But first, this is about Gregory’s NFL projection on the field. In many ways he’s a bigger projection than most because he played just two seasons of major college football and weighed in at just 235 pounds at the combine.
But in terms of two major criteria for a pass rusher—athletic tools and relentlessness—Gregory looks nearly off the charts. For those reasons, he’s as tantalizing a positional player as there is in this draft class.
I watched coaches film of all 10 games that Gregory played in extensively last season (he missed two games due to injury and was limited in another) and the first thing that stands out is his athleticism.
At just shy of 6-foot-5 with 34-inch arms and 10-inch hands, Gregory certainly looks the part (even at just 235 pounds). He’s long and strong enough to lock out against offensive tackles at the point of attack, which allows him to play heavier than he is. This rush against Miami left tackle Ereck Flowers, who may go in the first round this year as well, is an example of converting speed to power against one of the better left tackles.
But it’s the quickness and explosiveness that makes him truly dangerous. Gregory doesn’t have an elite first step, but it’s very good. Steps two and three are explosive, allowing him to get into linemen, or around them. Gregory is extremely fluid in the hips. That allows him to shuffle around or over blockers and gives him that bend-the-edge ability that separates great edge players from the ones who are just good.
Watch Gregory avoid the running back and make the sack against the Hurricanes on a designed quick throw in the red zone. Gregory’s speed and agility wrecks the play.
Gregory showed off what it means to bend the edge against a blocker with this strip-sack later against Miami.
In many ways Gregory is a superior athlete to 2014 first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, who was widely considered a once-in-a-generation athletic freak. The fact that Clowney did what he did at 266 pounds might have something to do with that, and maybe he will be a dominating interior rusher due to his power once he gets healthy, which is fine. But when it comes to being an edge rusher, Gregory has more tools at his disposal. Not only does the film show that, but physical testing does as well.
Clowney, who is a half-inch taller and longer in the arms, definitely has the edge with his amazing 4.53 40-yard dash (4.64 for Gregory). But the two were nearly identical in other areas (10-yard split, vertical jump and broad jump). Gregory had the edge in bench press (24 reps to 21) but blew Clowney out of the water in the two drills that show short-area quickness and agility: the short shuttle (4.23 to 4.43) and three-cone drill (6.8 to 7.27).
Here’s a look at the testing numbers for the top three edge players in this year’s draft, as well as three recent high draft picks.
|Player||Height||Weight||Arm Length||Hand Size||40-yd dash||10-yd split||Bench||Vertical||Broad||Short shuttle||3-cone|
|Randy Gregory||6' 4 ⅞"||235||34||10||4.64||1.61||24||36.5||125||4.23||6.80|
|Dante Fowler Jr.||6' 2 ⅝"||261||33.75||9.5||4.61||1.56||19||32.5||112||4.32||7.40|
|Vic Beasley||6' 3"||246||32.5||9.4||4.53||1.59||35||41||130||4.15||6.91|
|Jadeveon Clowney||6' 5 ¼"||266||34.5||10||4.53||1.59||21||37.5||124||4.43||7.27|
|Chandler Jones||6' 5 ⅜"||266||35.5||9.75||4.87||1.69||22||35||120||4.38||7.07|
|Dion Jordan||6' 6 ¼"||248||34||10||4.60||1.65||N/A||32.5||122||4.35||7.02|
The framework for an elite NFL edge player is there for Gregory. The athletic ability is rare. If he can get to 255 or 260 pounds and keep his athletic tools for most of his career, then he could realize that elite potential.
To be honest, when I flipped on Gregory’s first game of the 2014 season, against Florida Atlantic, I didn’t want to like him. He was flopping all over the ground. One play it was stretching after he missed a tackle (I hate excuses, make the play or don’t) or limping around with an injury, Gregory seemed to play with a lot of drama. Some of that continued during the season, looking for calls or thinking an opponent was going past the whistle, and I’m not crazy about it.
But the more I watched, the more the drama seemed to dissipate; I came to respect Gregory’s effort from whistle to whistle. There were many times during each game when you would see him chase plays across or down the field.
Early in the third quarter against Fresno State, Gregory was unblocked around the left tackle and then chased the running back, who went up the middle, and made the tackle 15 yards down the field. You can find multiple examples of that in each game. You could not say the same thing about Clowney when he was at South Carolina.
Against Rutgers Gregory made a sack, one that knocked quarterback Gary Nova from the game, after he was blocked to the ground by two linemen. This is the type of effort and desire that you don’t see with many college pass rushers, and it’s not the type of thing you can just flip the switch on when you get to the NFL. You either have it or you don’t, and Gregory has it.
Production and Position
This is the area where Gregory comes up short in his evaluation. In 24 career games (20 starts), Gregory posted 17.5 sacks, 29 tackles for loss and 34 quarterback hurries. Those are not the type of numbers you’d expect from a player with Gregory’s abilities. Even with Pro Football Focus listing him seventh in their pass rushing productivity and Football Outsiders having him with a high SackSEER projection, Gregory still doesn’t dominate as much as he should. But there are a couple of reasons to be optimistic about his chances at the next level.
Gregory, a junior college transfer, played just two years at Nebraska. His lack of refinement and experience is evident. He is far from a finished product; he needs to develop more pass-rush moves (he could be devastating with a spin move) and counters, and he will get better if he takes coaching well.
The other factor is the position Gregory played at Nebraska. While the Cornhuskers moved him around from right to left end and stood him up at times in the middle of the defense, the scheme did not take advantage of what Gregory does best. He can certainly play end in a 4-3 at the NFL level in the right scheme, but Gregory projects best as a 3-4 standup outside linebacker. If he did that in college, his production would have gone through the roof. Gregory belongs in a two-point stance where he can put his vast athletic abilities to work, and where his lack of weight won’t be as big an issue.
In his disclosure to NFL Network’s Kim Jones, Gregory’s words and past actions raised serious red flags. At Nebraska, Gregory officially tested positive for marijuana twice and was one strike away from being kickoff the team.
“It's not a struggle for me every day [now], it really isn't,” Gregory told Jones. “In the past, hell yeah, it's been a struggle. It really has been. Now, I'm focused on my dream."
So according to Gregory, he was so focused on his dream that he smoked pot in December and then tested positive at the combine, which was the biggest job interview of his career. They call the combine drug screening the “idiot test.” You have one test to pass before entering the NFL; Gregory flunked. Now he will likely enter the NFL in the substance abuse program, which triggers more testing and a lower bar to get suspended. That will give teams serious pause.
Gregory also sat out 2012 with a broken leg, and missed time last season with leg injuries. When evaluating speed pass rushers, teams don’t want to see chronic injuries to their wheels.
There are enough maturity and injury concerns that Gregory could drop out of the first round entirely. Teams are going to have to make their own decisions about that.
But as far as on the field, his talent, promise of production, effort and apparent love of playing, Gregory is a top-10 player. Gregory is far from a finished product, but that’s part of what makes him so enticing. Yes, there is definite “boom or bust” to him. But if he lands with a 3-4 team that can keep him focused away from the facility, he could be the NFL’s next great edge rusher.