This time, I will be breaking down Randy Gregory, a defensive end from the University of Nebraska. For the purposes of this breakdown, I went to Draft Breakdown and watched Gregory play against Miami, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and USC. Those represented the fourth, sixth, 10th, 11th and 13th games of Nebraska's season.
Update: Read our NFL Draft scouting reports 2015 for the top prospects.
Randy Gregory is listed at 6'6, 245 pounds and there doesn't appear to be an ounce of fat on this guy. He also has arms so long he might have the wingspan of a small private plane: 34 inches. He'd be on what we used to call the "All Bus Team." Those are the biggest, baddest, most physically imposing guys who you want getting off the bus first in an effort to strike fear into the heart of your opponent.
Not only is Gregory built like a muscular Lurch, a good thing for a pass rusher, he is also way more athletic than anybody his size has any right to be. It is obvious that he can fly as you watch him chasing down plays 10 yards or more down the field like he did early in the game against Miami.
Gregory also is cat quick as is evidenced by him avoiding a cut block by a running back to sack the quarterback in the same game. With his athletic gifts alone, you would think Gregory would have a very bright future in the NFL.
Yeah, and it turns out he can play a lil' bit, too!
But, I have a confession to make.
Because of how often Gregory flashed in a couple of games, he actually started to annoy me with his play in other games. Maybe that's because the first game I happened to break down was his game against Miami, which was one of his better performances of the season, statistically. He teased me a little bit with some of the things he did on the pass rush in that game, and I figured I would see more of those moves just with improved technique in subsequent games.
Turns out I was wroooong!
Don't misunderstand me, the young man made a ton of plays in all of the five games I watched. It's just that I also saw several instances in each game where he left big plays on the field. And don't even get me started on how many one-on-one pass rush opportunities Gregory squandered.
Is it OK if you have a two-sack game that you should have/could have had a four-sack game? I mean, shit, it's still two sacks! That's the kind of thing I struggle with when watching film on guys like Randy Gregory -- cats who have all the athletic ability in the world and decent technique from time to time but never consistently dominate using a combination of the two. Instead, from play-to-play they tend to rely on one or the other too heavily. So that sack becomes a pressure, that pressure becomes a completed pass, and so on and so forth.
My problem with Gregory is the fact that he showed an ability in the Miami game to give a head fake and then rip outside to turn the corner for an edge rush:
Then I rarely saw him do it in any of the other four games I broke down. Remember, of the games I watched, the Miami game was the earliest one from the season. That means instead of building on that edge rush from the Miami game, it just about disappeared from his arsenal over the rest of the season. Instead Gregory appeared to fall in love with quick inside arm-over/swim moves:
It appeared that he just about gave up trying to turn the corner to get pressure.
Hey, it's great when an inside move works, provided you don't lose contain and you don't run into another defensive lineman making a move outside. There are a few problems with almost exclusively using inside moves as a defensive end.
1. The offensive linemen will eventually stop respecting the outside move completely and just sit on the inside move.
2. By making an inside move, a player is potentially setting himself up to picked up by the guard, unnecessarily turning a one-on-one pass rush opportunity into a double team.
3. That whole losing contain and/or running into a teammate thing we discussed earlier becomes a lot more likely.
I just don't understand why, in the rest of the games I watched, Gregory kept going with that move over and over and over again instead of trying to turn the corner when he obviously knew how to rush on an edge. What I do know is that it became harder and harder for him to win on those inside swims/arm-overs, which means he likely gave up a bunch of sacks away.
In the bowl game against USC, the guy breaks out with a long arm to a rip move to come around the edge to pressure the quarterback early in the game (below). Where in the hell was that all season?! I don't know if Gregory was saving that move for the bowl game or something, but he should have brought it out sooner. Maybe he did and it just wasn't in any of the other games I watched. What I do know is that with his long arms and speed there shouldn't have been more than maybe three offensive tackles in all of college football who could block him one-on-one last season, and that's being generous.
Even though he showed crazy athleticism in all five games and even though he made some huge plays in those games, at the end of the day it's going to be all about pass rush with Gregory because of his size and weight and probably his NFL position. Unfortunately, I found him lacking in that area. Hell, he only had seven sacks this season, so what I'm saying shouldn't be all that controversial. I needed to see some consistent pressure from him. I needed to see him dominate almost every time he got a one-on-one opportunity. I didn't necessarily need Gregory to have 20 sacks, but 20 wins would have been nice. Instead, I mostly saw a guy just running around and relying too much on his athleticism even though he showed that he did possess decent technique from time to time.
That's not to say we won't see him dominate at the next level. The question for me as to why Gregory wasn't as consistently dominant as a pass rusher as he should have been comes down to whether it was a coaching issue, an internal motivational issue or an injury issue. If it's a coaching issue, then I take him all day every day because I believe I can coach a guy up to and maybe even beyond his potential. I'm sure that's the way most head coaches think.
If it's a motivational thing, where Gregory only plays hard when he wants to or hasn't taken to good coaching because he won't listen, then that's a headache I probably don't want to deal with, at least not as a high first-round pick.
From watching the film, I would have a hard time believing Gregory has any kind of motivational issues. It wasn't always pretty, but the kid gave Nebraska everything he had on just about every play. Go watch him against Michigan State early in the game where they have him blitzing as an inside linebacker. It was a passing play. The opposing quarterback drifted away from him, but he still dove at the quarterback even though he knew he couldn't possibly get to him with an offensive lineman between the two of them trying to cut him.
He dove because he knew that even though he wouldn't get a sack, just his body landing that close to the quarterback might spook him. Guess what, he was right. The quarterback ends up throwing the pass right in the dirt and the Cornhuskers get off the field on third-and-10. I also loved to see that he had some piss and vinegar in him when he took offense to something one of USC's tight ends had done to him and belly-to-back suplexed the guy right there on the spot during the play.
So yeah, I'm gonna go ahead and say I definitely don't think Gregory has any motivational issues. That leaves coaching and/or health issues. I fired up the Google machine, and it turns out Gregory had some knee issues early in the season and another leg injury in the Wisconsin game. So injuries may have indeed had an effect on his season.
In that case, you could do a lot damn worse than Gregory if you're looking for a pass rusher. Put all his flash plays together and just look at what he could be if he played like that every down. Combine that with all the pass rush moves he hasn't even learned yet, and it's like mental Viagra for a defensive coordinator. All you gotta do is coach him up a little.
Wait, hold on.
We never got around to talking about Gregory playing the run.
There is no doubt that he was a little light in the ass to be playing the run as a 4-3 defensive end, even in college. But I have to give credit where its due; Gregory did more ass kicking against tight ends than I ever imagined he would before watching the film. Oh, don't get me wrong: all that was missing was a lil' syrup on those unfortunate plays where he got pancaked from time to time, but by and large, he at least held his own against tight ends and offensive tackles. What he wasn't able to do well was restrict the hole to his inside by pressing the offensive lineman or tight end back inside. In fact, on a few occasions the offensive tackle actually widened him and opened the hole further.
To me that's a simple "need enough ass to whup ass" problem. Gregory is projected to be a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. In either case, he is probably going to have to gain some damn weight. He might be able to get away with weighing 235 pounds at outside linebacker, but I sincerely doubt it. There ain't no way in hell that he will hold up at that weight as a 4-3 defensive end. Nope, not gonna happen.
Teams likely wanted to see him in at least the 260-pound range at the Combine to feel comfortable that he will be able anchor in against the run on the next level. Setting the edge is one of the most important jobs on a defense and I'm not sure anybody is confident that Gregory can do it well without bulking up.
At the same time, I watched Gregory play both the dive and the quarterback on read-option plays a couple different times in those five games (below), something which you aren't physically supposed to be able to do. That speaks to his elite level athleticism and ability to change direction. Once he gets just a little bit better technique, especially pass rush technique, that allows him to showcase his gifts even further, there's no telling what this kid will be able to accomplish in the NFL.
I've seen some folks who have Gregory as one of the top players in the draft, even the first pick. I just can't see that being the case. First, if there is a defensive end the Buccaneers, or any other team for that matter, would be interested in picking No. 1, there is another guy they would be looking at over Gregory, in my opinion. Second, I just can't put a guy who is still as raw as Gregory on the top of my draft board unless he had off-the-charts athleticism like Jadeveon Clowney did last year. Gregory is athletic, but he ain't Clowney. Even if he were, he would still have to be more appealing than one or both of the two highly rated quarterbacks this year.
No. Nope. Nah!
I can definitely see Gregory being a top six or seven talent in the draft. It's a matter of which team picking in that range trusts their defensive line coach. That team will probably be the one snatching Randy Gregory off the board. I personally believe he will fit in any scheme as long as he gains weight, but coaching him up is going to be crucial. I've seen plenty of guys who were big, strong, fast and athletic, but never learned any pass rush moves and never improved their technique against the run and ended up being big, strong, fast, athletic bums.
Let's hope for Randy Gregory's sake that he lands in a good destination for him where he gets good coaching and doesn't end up a bum. Besides, we will all win if he ends up maximizing his potential because we get to watch it as it happens!