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Randy Gregory: Will His Size Hurt Him as a Professional?

Justis Mosqueda@justisfootballFeatured ColumnistFebruary 24, 2015

Nebraska defensive lineman Randy Gregory runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip/Associated Press

I've been following the draft closely for years now, and to me, Randy Gregory is the most interesting player in this particular class for one reason: We haven't really seen a player like him before.

Gregory was listed by Nebraska, where he played two years, as a 6'6", 240-pound giant. Born in Jacksonville, Florida, his size and reported athleticism brought on comparisons to a University of Florida great, Jevon Kearse. Kearse was named to three Pro Bowls in his first three years in the NFL after being drafted 16th in the 1999 draft. He also was named the AFC's Defensive Player of the Year as a rookie.

He was tabbed "The Freak," but he only kept that pace for so long before breaking down. In those initial three seasons, he netted double-digit sacks every year. In his remaining eight years of his career, bouncing from Tennessee to Philadelphia and then back to Tennessee once more, he never managed to hit that number again. Gregory was supposed to be what Kearse could have been.

Long-time NFL Films tape guru Greg Cosell even went on the radio show The Bottom Line (via Omaha.com) and stuck his neck out, stating Gregory was a better prospect than Jadeveon Clowney, who was seen as a once-in-a-generation collegiate athlete.

Clowney went to the combine and killed the 40-yard dash at 266 pounds with a laser time of 4.53. According to Mock Draftable, Clowney scored in the top percent of defensive end prospects regarding 40 times, without lacking any size. What could Gregory even do to match that?

College teams usually embellish heights and weights for undersized players, but there's no bias at the combine.

Some thought Gregory could have added weight in the nearly two months he's been out of the Nebraska program, coming in around 245 pounds, still a solid 20 pounds lighter than Clowney. Clemson's Vic Beasley basically did that, playing at a listed 235 pounds but stepping on the scale in Indianapolis at 246.

Unfortunately for Gregory, he's not Beasley. Gregory's 235-pound frame on paper is dwarfed by Kearse's 265-pound one. That comparison was out. DraftInsider.net's Tony Pauline even dropped information alleging that when he began the draft process, Gregory was under 220 pounds:

Randy Gregory/Nebraska weighed in at 238lbs. Came to combine training at 218lbs.

— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) February 20, 2015

That's unacceptable for a player who was considered to have his hand down at the line of scrimmage. Kearse played well into the 260 range. That means the difference between Gregory's alleged playing weight of 218 and Kearse's size is about the difference between Kearse and a defensive tackle. Stark difference.

Seattle's strong safety, Kam Chancellor, was measured in at the combine at 231 pounds, meaning that Gregory probably had more in common with a defensive back than a defensive lineman.

At this point, he's not a defensive end. He needs to be looked at as a linebacker in any scheme possible. A 235-pound player on a stretched-out frame is a giant, waving red flag. His size may even kick him into inside linebacker as a 3-4 player. Other than a 4-3 strong-side outside linebacker, he's a square peg.

The value of off-the-ball linebackers is much lower than edge players, meaning the options for NFL squads could be forcing him into a role or reluctantly moving him into a spot where his position has less overall impact on a snap-to-snap basis. Judging by recent history, I would assume he's going to be drafted high still and forced into a pass-rushing role, but his chances of succeeding are low.

To illustrate his size, I lined up every pass-rusher drafted in the first three rounds in the past decade by density, simply weight in pounds divided by height in feet. The "Y" axis is their density, while the "X" is simply putting them in ascending order.

Randy Gregory's density lined up with every EDGE player drafted in 1st-3rd since 2005. There are no comps close. pic.twitter.com/FgZuoLNIgK

— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) February 23, 2015

Sticking out like a sore thumb? Randy Gregory. He's on the far tail end of the graph, highlighted. That other data point next to him? Dion Jordan.

Jordan has a similar story. He was a hyped freak athlete, towering in at the 2013 combine as a 6'6", 248-pounder. Basically, he was Gregory with an added inch and 13 pounds. He ran a 4.60 40 while there, which is more than good for a pass-rusher in a vacuum, but density needed to be accounted for.

J.J. Watt ran a 4.84 40 time at the combine at 6'5" and 290 pounds. This weekend, Bryan Bennett, a quarterback out of Southeastern Louisiana, also ran a 4.81, as a 6'2" 211-pounder. Which one are you more likely to be able to stop with a head of steam?

Rarely are you able to run through space freely in the NFL, so force, not speed, is what you're trying to determine with speed drills. This is why size, in this case density, is important.

One way to work numbers for this is by using "Waldo's formula" in the draft community. A person namedter named Waldo on FootballsFuture.com ran numbers in 2011 to predict success for 3-4 outside linebackers, who are pass-rushers and posted the results. In his formula to measure adjusted 40 times, referred to creatively as "Speed 40," Jordan clocked in at 1.34.

For reference, that was out-done by all three of the top pass-rushers in last year's class. Clowney got a score of 4.69; Khalil Mack, who was named Defensive Rookie of the Year by many, was a 2.23 player; and Minnesota's Anthony Barr got a 2.40.

Numbers mean nothing without results, though. Even with 16 combined games missed in 2014 between those three players, a full NFL regular season, they performed well enough early on to collectively average 4.78 tackles a game and 0.25 sacks per game. Jordan, in his second season in the league, still has only averaged 1.76 and 0.11 in those respective marks.

For a more digestible look at that, first-round rookies last year who ran a better adjusted 40 time, per Waldo, had an increased number of tackles per game, by 170 percent, and sacks per game, by 116 percent, than Jordan, who was drafted third overall, and, per Waldo, had only been impressive running if you had not taken their size into account.

Jordan is quickly speeding down the "bust" lane. With only one start under his belt in two years, some have vocally questioned if pass-rusher is a role for him. Per ESPN.com's James Walker, he still seems to be adamant, though:

But according to Jordan, a position switch in 2015 isn’t necessary for him to reach his potential.

“I’m a defensive end, man,” Jordan said Monday as players cleaned out their lockers. “I will continue to do whatever they need me to do, whether it’s covering a special-teams kick or blocking on a kickoff return or covering guys in space.”

Dolphins’ coaches, including defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, said everything must be evaluated in the offseason for Jordan. Miami invested heavily in Jordan by trading up to the No. 3 overall pick to get him in 2013. Yet, Jordan only has three career sacks to go with 46 tackles in two seasons.

This brings us back to Gregory. A quick Google or Twitter search will bring up people praising the former Nebraska front-seven player for his 40-yard dash mark of 4.58.

When you run his numbers through Waldo, though, his "Speed 40" turns out to be a -1.06. A negative number because of how light his size is. Remember, Jordan was a 1.34 player by the metric and Mack, tabbed by most as either the best or second-best rookie defender behind St. Louis' Aaron Donald, came in at 2.23.

Essentially, that "Speed 40" metric, which has had success predicting the future of pass-rushers, states that Gregory, still on the top of the defensive board for many draft writers, is twice as far away from Jordan, in a negative sense, then the distance between Jordan, labeled currently as a bust of an early selection, and the best pass-rusher type from last year's class. That's not good.

Is the NFL going to make the same mistake again? Simple physics says force is mass times acceleration. So, while running fast is pretty at the combine, a light player's performance gets nulled when he's met through contact, which it turns out happens a lot in the NFL.

If Gregory has the speed to run through space, but not the force to win at the point of attack, it seems pretty obvious that he should be tried as an off-the-ball linebacker, not a pass-rusher.

People have been saying this about Jordan since he went through the process. Now, two years and one start later, it's starting to become chatter at a national level. One has to think that a team willing to draft a player like Gregory as high as he's being currently valued and projected has to think of him as a pass-rusher, otherwise it wouldn't make sense.

I'll put it this way, Miami didn't trade up to third overall for an off-the-ball linebacker. They wanted Kearse.

The team that drafts Gregory will more than likely have the same aspirations. Some teams do own up to their mistakes, though. For example, Shea McClellin was drafted 19th out of Boise State in 2012 as a defensive end. In 2014, just after two years on the job, the Chicago Bears moved him to linebacker. In his third season, Jordan may face the same sobering fate.

Are we going to have to wait until 2017 to see Gregory play in the role he should have played the entire time? Ignoring the decoder-ring-type function of the combine could poise the team that drafts him for failure from the start.

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