With less than 100 days until college football returns, the hype surrounding Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory is building. The question is now whether or not he'll live up to it in 2014.
The hype hit an all-time high when USA Today's first mock draft (via the Detroit Free Press) for 2015 listed Gregory being taken first overall. That definitely got some attention, especially within the Big Ten. After all, the Big Ten hasn't had an NFL draft pick in the top 10 since 2008.
But it's not just USA Today that has put a lot of confidence in Gregory. CBS Sports has him listed as the No. 3 overall pick, Athlon Sports has him at No. 8 and ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr. just added him to his Big Board (subscription required) at the No. 3 spot.
Randy Gregory is the No. 3 overall player on Mel Kiper’s Way-Too-Early Big Board for the 2015 draft.— Dan Hoppen (@danhoppen) May 22, 2014
Will Gregory truly be a top-10 draft pick come next spring? Even better, could he really be drafted No. 1 overall?
As simple as it sounds, it all depends on Gregory. But there's more to it than just that.
Gregory made the adjustment from junior college to the Big Ten look simple in 2013. His stats were impressive, racking up 19 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. He also had 18 quarterback hurries, which led the team by a mile.
In 2014, Gregory will have to build upon those numbers and be even more impressive to keep the hype. Pending no injuries, the defensive end is definitely ready. He's also not sold on his future just yet.
"I know where my head's at. I know what I need to focus at and that's the team, this season ahead of us," he said this spring, per Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star. "All the NFL talk, and things like that, can wait until after the season."
The key takeaway from Gregory? He'll need his team to live up to the hype. "And it sounds crazy, but it's going to be tough this year. I love Nebraska. I expect things from the team, and individually," he told Christopherson.
The team is definitely on his side, though. Plenty of players have expressed their support for Gregory.
. @Ameerguapo on DE Randy Gregory: He's the best we're going to see in the conference, and we're lucky he's on our team.— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) April 9, 2014
And that team support and help will be crucial. As Bleacher Report's Michael Felder noted, "for Gregory to make good on the projections, I think it will be a blend of getting help from some other Nebraska defenders and his defensive staff getting creative with his athleticism."
There is no denying Gregory's talent. If he builds off of last season, he'll absolutely live up to the hype. He can't rest on his successes of last year, though. The 2014 season will be a brand new opportunity to show he's worthy of being drafted in the top 10.
Mock drafts are only worth so much, and that's important to remember. If the way-too-early mock drafts from last spring were to be compared to what actually happened at the 2014 NFL draft, it'd be clear that things change. So for Gregory, there truly is no guarantee.
But his talent speaks for itself. He has shown he's able to grow and adapt quickly. That will be enticing for plenty of NFL teams, especially those that run the 3-4 defense.
Gregory will start the season as one of the Big Ten's, and likely the nation's, top defensive players. Some have even argued he may be the best defender. It's hard to see that changing by the end of the season.
Hype is a fickle thing. It can make or break a player. In Gregory's case, it looks like he shouldn't have an issue living up to it.