Nebraska Cornhuskers defensive end Randy Gregory is one of the most explosive and athletic players in college football, and he’s a consensus first-round pick who ends up being off the board in the top ten in plenty of early 2015 NFL Mock Drafts. Gregory is a physical specimen in its purest form, and he has loads of potential. While he plays as a 4-3 defensive end, I think Gregory is a better fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the pros due to his explosiveness, ability in pursuit, and the mis-matches he created while used on delayed blitzes up the middle. Gregory can fill out an excellent 6’6″ frame, he has great speed, plenty of athleticism, impressive burst, elite upside, and he had good production last year.
But while Gregory is as hyped as any prospect on the defensive side of the ball, there are also hitches in his game that need to be resolved. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini believes that Gregory has only scratched the surface of his potential, and I agree given his deficiencies as a run defender, his rawness as a pass rusher, and his lack of strength.
The Michigan Wolverines offensive tackle duo was one of the best in college football last season, as they boasted elite left tackle and current Tennessee Titans first-round rookie Taylor Lewan, as well as current Denver Broncos rookie OT Michael Schofield. That said, Michigan’s interior was poor, Devin Gardner held onto the ball too long and did not understand slide protections, and Fitzgerald Toussaint was an embarrassment when asked to stay in and block. Because of all of these factors, taking a look at Gregory’s film against the Wolverines gives us a nice starting point for evaluating his skills and weaknesses as he heads into what could be a monstrous 2014 season, especially as he’s refined his game and bulked up over the offseason.
As always, the film I used for these breakdowns is courtesy of Draft Breakdown, which has truly revolutionized coverage of the NFL Draft by allowing fans and writers to evaluate prospects closely.
The first thing that stood out to me about Gregory in this game was his lack of success against Lewan. Granted, he was going up against a left tackle who will probably be a great player in the NFL, but Gregory is a projected first-round pick; he should do better than pull a “blank” against a fellow elite player. If Gregory is to be regarded as a top-ten prospect, then he needs to be able to prove that he can go toe-to-toe with another elite prospect. It’s important to recognize that Lewan was further along in his development last season, but it’s concerning to me that Lewan could bully him in the passing game. Check out the GIF below.
Once Lewan locks onto Gregory, the Nebraska DE just can’t seem to get past Lewan, and it’s almost sad to see how easily he’s bottled up by the left tackle. Gregory doesn’t even try to pull a move here, and his attempts to use his hands are futile. I think Gregory’s lack of real pass rushing moves are far more concerning to me than his hand usage, which has been criticized by some, because he does have violent hands (it’s pretty common for Nebraska defensive linemen). A common thread throughout the game against Michigan is the fact that Gregory does a much better job of generating pressure when he can use his explosiveness by standing up instead of putting his hand on the ground; he just didn’t have the strength to beat Lewan, nor did he have the savvy moves to get around the Titans OL. If he can develop moves- like a swim- then he could be unstoppable.
One of the reasons why I like Gregory as a 3-4 outside linebacker more than a 4-3 defensive end is because he displays natural instincts and tackling ability in open space. I want to play him standing up and as a linebacker, because I want to take advantage of his athleticism and speed in the open field. A 4.67 forty looks a lot more impressive at the defensive end position, but, based on his tape last year (if he bulks up, that could change things), he was a better fit as an LB. The play below isn’t an impressive individual effort, but it shows critical discipline. While Gregory is known for his speed and athletic ability, he’s also a smart player who understands how to play contain. Earlier in the game, he saw that the Michigan offensive line was aggressively run blocking to the right, but he decided to stay in his position in case of a cut-back from the RB. Another Nebraska player already made the tackle for a loss, but the Michigan RB did indeed cutback, and Gregory was there to provide support.