After a failed drug test at the NFL Combine caused Randy Gregory's stock to drop in the 2015 NFL, the Cowboys took a swing on his undeniable upside at the end of the second round. It has required a large amount of patience from owner Jerry Jones, but it finally appears that the swing he took has a chance to pay off in a major way in 2021.
It was a bumpy ride to get to this point where Gregory should finally lock down the starting defensive end spot opposite Demarcus Lawrence. While the thought of this long journey back finally working out for both Gregory and the Cowboys is a happy one, it's tough not to wonder how much different his career would have turned out if the NFL's current policy on drug testing and mental health was in place back when he entered the league in 2015.
Gregory was widely regarded as a top-10 talent before the incident at the combine, and it's easy to see why. Checking in at 6'5” and 240 lbs, Gregory was an absolute force in his two seasons with Nebraska. In total, he racked up 119 tackles, 16.5 sacks, 26.5 tackles for loss, four passes defended, two interceptions, and one forced fumble. He led the Big-10 Conference in sacks in 2013 as he moved all over the field, taking snaps all over the defensive line and from all three linebacker positions.
Randy Gregory is going to turn 29 years old this season, and while there are cases of defensive lineman remaining productive into their thirties, it's beginning to feel like it's now or never for Gregory, at least as it pertains to his time in Dallas.
He still possesses all of the tools that made him so attractive coming out of college. While his stats as a pro aren't anything to write home about, he has flashes where he absolutely pops on tape, exploding into the backfield to cause havoc for the other team like he was shot out of a cannon.
It took some time for Randy Gregory to settle into his role in 2020, as his season started with a six-game suspension. Once he returned in Week 7, it took some more time for him to start stealing snaps from a fading Aldon Smith. He finished 2020 with 21 tackles, 3.5 sacks, four tackles for a loss, and three forced fumbles. Gregory only missed one tackle and had 12 QB hits, meaning his sack numbers have considerable room to grow if he can get one step quicker on some of these bang-bang plays.
Everything has fallen perfectly into place for Gregory to finally put together the Pro-Bowl level season we thought he was capable of when he was drafted. The depth chart is wide open behind Lawrence, as Gregory only needs to fend off the likes of Bradley Anae, Neville Gallimore, Dorance Armstrong, and Chauncey Golsten for playing time.
The early reports from Cowboys OTAs are all positive as it pertains to Gregory, as he's made a strong impression on Head Coach Mike McCarthy.
“Just having a chance to watch Randy Gregory work … he looks very comfortable out there,” said McCarthy. “When I looked at Randy's personal evaluation, I gave him two arrows way up. Clearly, his path last year, he just continued to rise with every opportunity he had.”
A virtual offseason combined with a late start to the 2020 season left Randy Gregory playing catch-up all season long. That won't be the case for him this season, as McCarthy is expecting big things out of him in 2021.
“I didn't have a chance to work with him [last offseason]” McCarthy said. “But now I think he can be a primary, premier player for us.”
With expectations of a playoff run hovering over the Dallas Cowboys in 2021, the pressure will be on Gregory to show that he can be an integral part of the crew that turns around the worst defense in Cowboys history from 2020. It truly is now or never for Randy Gregory. He has a lot of missed time to make up for, and we will all be rooting for this comeback story to have a happy ending.