Steelers Draft: Breaking Down Randy Gregory
Since being touted as arguably the top prospect in this year’s draft class during the preseason, Gregory has suffered a serious drop in his draft stock. Gregory has been given the injury prone label, weighed in under weight at the combine, and failed a drug test for marijuana at the combine. He has gone from being arguably the top edge rusher in the draft, to a prospect that some are saying they wouldn’t take in the first round.
Although he has certain red flags that obviously make him less enticing of a prospect than he was viewed as before, Gregory still has plenty of traits on the field that make him the second best edge player in this class and worthy of a top 10 pick.
He displays the ability to win multiple ways as a pass rusher and flashes the ability to defend against the run very effectively. As Josh Norris likes to say, most players never make their weaknesses strengths but just improve in areas that are already strengths. Gregory will probably never be a set the edge type of run defender, but he could certainly improve his ability as a penetrator to disrupt running lanes. He will also probably always have holes in his game as a power rusher, but as he puts on weight he could become exceptional in this area when he uses good leverage.
This first play below exhibits Gregory’s ability to win as a power rusher when he plays with good leverage.
Right off the snap Gregory gets into the body of the left tackle, Ereck Flowers, and underneath his pads. Saying that Gregory puts Flowers on skates would be an understatement. It’s more like Gregory rag-dolls Flowers and pushes him back into the pocket to disrupt the quarterback. Pay attention to how Gregory’s ankles and lower body flex as he gets underneath Flowers’ pads and pushes him back. As Gregory adds more weight and functional strength, his ability to drive offensive tackles backwards with a bull rush will only be magnified.
These next two plays demonstrate Gregory’s ability to get himself into open space and close extremely quickly on the ball carrier, whether that may be a quarterback or a running back.
In the first play, Gregory gets an extremely quick jump off of the ball to eat up the cushion that the offensive tackle gives himself off the snap. Since the tackle isn’t prepared for Gregory to be on top of him so quickly, he overextends at the waist which leaves him off balance an susceptible to an inside counter move. Gregory easily recognizes an takes advantage of this. Once he evades the offensive tackle Gregory closes on the quarterback quickly to force an underneath check down throw.
The second play doesn’t display any pass rush moves from Gregory, but it does show discipline to diagnose the read option and then close extremely quickly on the quarterback.
In this play against Rutgers, Gregory gets off the ball with a pretty good first step. Once he reaches the offensive tackle, he does a good job of hand fighting to keep the tackle from engaging him. In this play Gregory waits a little bit too long to turn the edge and put pressure on the quarterback, but had he bent off his rush up-field sooner he would likely have made an impact on the play. For a taller player, Gregory flexes his ankles and bends at the waist very well to effectively turn the corner and pressure the quarterback
This is the last play I want to use to display Gregory’s positive traits. Don’t pay attention to the red box as it isn’t actually surrounding Gregory. He is lined up off of the ball as a linebacker and is wearing number 4. This play displays Gregory’s exceptional agility and change of direction skills. Although Gregory doesn’t end up with a sack on the play, he makes an impact by flushing the quarterback out of the pocket and forcing an errant underneath throw.
In this play against USC, Gregory gets an extremely slow jump off the ball. Since he is at an immediate disadvantage Gregory dances around before engaging with the offensive tackle. The tackle does a nice job of not over-extending to initiate contact and absorbs the blow when Gregory initiates contact. Although the offensive tackle gets knocked off balance initially, he recovers well and holds Gregory off from penetrating into the pocket.
This happens many times when watching Gregory. He gets off the snap inconsistently because he struggles anticipating the snap. When Gregory is put at this initial disadvantage, he seems to panic and dance around to try and throw off the tackle instead of using his very good explosion to make up the lost ground.
Here is another play later in the Rutgers game that displays another of Gregory’s biggest weaknesses. Gregory gets a good jump off of the ball and gets into the body of the offensive lineman quickly. Gregory makes the mistake of trying to bull rush the offensive tackle even though he doesn’t have the leverage to win on the play. Once the running back chips in to help, Gregory gets stood up and makes no impact on the play.
Gregory certainly isn’t a perfect player by any means, and he needs a lot of development to reach his potential, but his combination of current skill-set and future potential should make him a coveted player in the draft. I doubt that teams will actually think of him as highly as they should. They will probably focus too heavily on minor issues like his weight and injury history and knock him down their boards. The failed drug test at the combine is more of an issue than either of these other two and teams will, rightfully, move him down their board as a result, but he should still be in virtually everyone’s top 15.
Gregory is a very rare talent, in that he is able to win in multiple ways as a pass rusher and effectively defend the run. Not to mention that Gregory should become even better in all of these areas once he puts on 15-20 pounds, which shouldn’t be very hard to do once he gets on an NFL strength program.
Looking at realistic targets for the Steelers in the first round, Gregory is far and away my favorite. Getting a top 10 talent at the 22nd overall pick would be a major win for a franchise that is in dire need of defensive help. People will surely point to off-field issues for Gregory, even though they don’t know the whole story behind his perceived issues, as a reason the Steelers should avoid him. However, when you have as bad of a defense as the Steelers do, it shouldn’t be a tough decision to take the very good edge player with elite upside to improve that defense.
Gregory would slate in as an immediate starter on passing situations, while rotating in on running situations. I don’t expect Gregory would make a huge impact in his first year, maybe racking up 5-8 sacks, but he has the potential to be a consistent 10+ sack producer and solid run defender down the road. In a draft class that is so often profiled as weak, a player that is capable of that production down the road is easily a top 10 talent.
Next: How Bad Will The Steelers Defense Be?
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