2015 NFL Draft Preview: DE Randy Gregory
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series rolls on! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This eighth week, the focus is on defensive ends. Because many college defensive ends transition to linebacker in the NFL, we would like to clarify that all players being analyzed this week played defensive end in college. Today’s prospect is Randy Gregory out of Nebraska.
Although Gregory only played two seasons in Lincoln as a Husker, the defensive end managed to put himself in the mix for a top-10 selection in just a few weeks. Before transferring to Nebraska in 2013, Gregory dominated at the JUCO level while attending Arizona Western. He was touted as the best junior college DE prospect in the nation, and despite breaking his leg in 2012, he would transition smoothly to FBS football.
Gregory started 10 games (as technically a sophomore) in his first year at Nebraska with 66 tackles and 10.5 sacks. This made him worthy of First-Team All-Big Ten honors after he registered the most sacks ever for a first-year player at the university. When Gregory finished out his college career this past fall, the defensive end's production faltered as he struggled with injuries. While still accounting for 54 tackles, seven sacks, and 16 quarterback hurries, he was named a second-team All-American and First-Team All-Big Ten yet again. Gregory also blocked two field goals in 2014, adding to his resume. His 17.5 sacks at Nebraska are ninth all-time.
One thing is for sure about Randy Gregory: NFL coaches will have plenty of talent to work with. At 6'5", 235 lbs., Gregory is lean at the defensive end spot. However, what he lacks in bulk, he makes up for in athletic ability. He certainly looks the part: a lengthy, rangy edge rusher with good speed. As a pass rusher, he fights well with his hands and possesses nice shiver and swim moves to help him win inside. Gregory is very quick and shifty when he attacks, and when he wins on the outside, he can bend the edge and rip through to the quarterback. Gregory can also convert his speed into power when going after offensive linemen, a testimony to his explosive play.
Against the run at Nebraska, the defensive end did a nice job of setting the edge and keeping contain. In terms of fundamentals, the potential top-10 prospect displayed good play recognition skills; he was disciplined against the zone read and play action. Yet, perhaps the most intriguing part about Gregory is his versatility. Playing end on both sides of the field and getting snaps at nickel linebacker on passing downs (see below), he was utilized all over the field at Nebraska to keep the protection guessing. This will make him quite the interesting toy for NFL defensive coordinators.
As much potential as Gregory has at the next level, he is one of the riskiest players projected to be taken at the top of the first round. Unfortunately, he looks as though he could be a prospective bust. Aside from doing a nice job maintaining the edge in the running game, Gregory is otherwise non-existent in this department. He has difficulties getting off of blocks and can be severely neutralized for long periods of time. Another big red flag is the one-dimensional type of rusher Gregory has become. He relies way too much on speed, and if he doesn't win his matchup initially, he has no counter moves in his repertoire. The ability is there to bull rush and win inside like he has. The problem is that you just don't see it on a consistent basis.
Overall, in both aspects of rushing the passer and playing the run, Gregory disappears on film. He is only an impact player on occasion, or for all we know, when he decides he wants to be. His inconsistent play is a huge question mark as he enters the pros, and it could be a major reason he slides into the late first round. This is all without mentioning the recent concerns about Gregory's character after failing a drug test at the combine for marijuana. He was very open about taking the blame and admitting to problems in the past, but this doesn't really make the situation any better. General managers will still be skeptical about how seriously Gregory takes his future job.
Taking in consideration of Gregory's size, athleticism, and length, his qualities are better suited for him to move to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. The former Husker stood up in college often on the outside, so this would not be totally new for him. Outside linebackers in the 3-4 must be able to set the edge, and that is what Gregory does best against the run. With all this being said, if it was my choice, I would take a pass on drafting Randy Gregory in a few weeks. It goes back to the unpredictable performances. Sometimes this kid is unstoppable, and other times you forget who he is. His lack of consistent impact at Nebraska makes him a very dangerous pick. There is also the fear that he is not polished and savvy enough as a pass rusher to make it in the NFL. Once you mix in the character concerns, don't be shocked if teams in the top-10 elect to pass. Still, given what he could become, the worst he could fall is probably to the 20's in the first.
One team specifically in the top-10 makes sense for Gregory, and that is the Chicago Bears. The defense will be moving to a 3-4 now that new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is in town, and he is viewed as one of the best in the business. He always had a top-five defense when he was with San Francisco, and it can be assured he and defensive-minded John Fox will make this talented group better in 2015. Fangio has dealt with a troubled, athletic pass rusher before in Aldon Smith, so this could be the perfect marriage in the Windy City. With Jared Allen and Pernell McPhee on the outside, Gregory could slowly move in to a nice, formidable rotation where he could gain knowledge from veteran leaders.
Coaching will be important for Gregory, so that's where his best fits lie. Houston at 16 makes some sense with stellar DC Romeo Crennel, and also the Packers if for some reason Gregory took a huge slide or they traded up. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers loves versatile guys similar to Clay Matthews, who moved from outside to inside linebacker last season. Capers would find creative ways to deploy Gregory.