Pass Rusher Profile: Randy Gregory
The Dallas Cowboys got terrific value from Jeremy Mincey last season as their top edge rusher, but entering his 10th season the Cowboys needed to look to the future and upgrade if their defensive improvements from 2014 were to be sustained.
That plan for long-term improvement is centered on the development of second-round pick (and draft weekend free-faller) Randy Gregory. A lean and athletic pass rusher at Nebraska, Gregory brings proven production to the Cowboys along with a need to develop physically if he is to stand up to the wear and tear of life as an NFL pass rusher.
Even at his smaller size he showed the ability to mix it up physically with some of the biggest and best pass protectors in college football last season. One matchup that we missed out on was Gregory against Iowa’s Brandon Scherff, a game Gregory missed, but we still got to see him go head-to-head with and win matchups against the likes of Ereck Flowers and Jack Conklin of Michigan State last season. He did pad his stats against Purdue’s weak offensive line somewhat (1 Ht, 11 Hu) but there was still consistent production throughout the season.
A big boost for Gregory’s numbers is the 15 unblocked pressures he recorded in his final season as a Cornhusker. To his credit, he did convert a high percentage of those pressures into hits and sacks, but that’s a volume unlikely to be replicated in the NFL. These came from a variety of ways either with Gregory left unblocked by design (rollouts for example), due to an overload or on occasion working in combination with other defenders on stunts. Gregory’s balance of inside, outside and bullrush moves is important to see, but the Cowboys will hope to coax a greater quantity of pressure from Gregory by these means once he is inserted into a full-time role.
If a role as a pass-rush specialist is where Gregory will most likely begin his career, then his work on the latter downs and especially 3rd-and-longs will certainly excite the Cowboys’ fans and coaching staff. Gregory’s opportunities on third downs were somewhat limited (98 pass rushes compared to 140+ for Markus Golden and Shane Ray, for example) but he took full advantage of the opportunities given to him. Farming third-down opportunities was key to the production the Cowboys got from Mincey last season and similar dividends could be gained from Gregory if they can repeat their early-down success on defense from a year ago.
Further fitting the Cowboys’ profile from last year is Gregory’s work strengthening as the game goes on, though his production was still strong throughout the game. The Cowboys managed games well last year using their ground game to protect both their passing attack and particularly their defense, helping them to get after the quarterback late in games rather than having to stop opposing ground attacks.
If the team can replicate that model in 2015, then in Gregory they have one of the better fourth-quarter pass rushers from this year’s draft class. Though not at the top of the class (James Vaughters and Dante Fowler come in ahead of him) Gregory’s production in the fourth quarter was impressive, helping him to top and tail games with his most productive periods in the first and fourth quarters.
A fast start to help the Cowboys build a lead and then a strong finish to preserve that lead would be a recipe Dallas fans would be delighted to see repeated in 2015. The Cowboys have collected a wealth of options to rush the passer this season but at least early in the season Jeremy Mincey seems like the only “safe” bet for production, so it will be interesting to see just how soon Gregory can contribute and share the load until Greg Hardy has served his suspension.
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