Randy Gregory was one of the few bright spots for the Dallas Cowboys on defense in 2020. After missing the first six games with a suspension, he finished with 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and 12 quarterback hits in the 10 games he played in.
That performance has put high expectations on Gregory as he's projected to start opposite DeMarcus Lawrence. So much so, the staff for The Athletic recently named their breakout candidates for all 32 teams in 2021. For the Cowboys, it came down to 2020 rookie sensation CeeDee Lamb or Gregory, and the latter camp out on top.
Jon Machota on his Gregory pick:
“Since Lamb already had a nice rookie season, I’m giving Gregory my official vote. With Aldon Smith no longer on the roster, Gregory is in position to be Dallas’ starting right edge defender with DeMarcus Lawrence handling those duties on the left. Considering that Gregory has been suspended for more games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy than he’s played in, he’s become somewhat of a forgotten man around the league. But at 28, he still has plenty of talent to possibly lead the Cowboys in sacks and quarterback pressures.”
Gregory is not your typical 28-year old player. Although he's entering his seventh NFL season, he's only played in 38 games with 1,038 snaps. 44 percent of those snaps (457) came in 2018 when he first flashed what his potential could be by finishing second on the team with six sacks, racked up two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and 15 quarterback hits in 14 games.
His production last season, albeit good, came on only 25 percent (271) of the Cowboy's defensive snaps. The former second-round pick wanted to see the field more and build off the momentum he generated, as he explained during minicamp.
“There were a lot of factors at play,” Gregory said. “I wasn't happy with my playing time. Were there conversations around that? Of course. I think that's more internal.”
2021 will see Gregory's snap count go up significantly which will lead to better production for him. One advantage he has going into this season is experiencing a full offseason program for the first time since his rookie campaign in 2015. It's been a huge help for Gregory as he gets set to be a full-time starter.
“It gives me an excuse to wake up in the morning and have fun,” Gregory said last month. “What I like about this staff right now is that they are making it fun. They are looking at the details and what builds a good football player, not just the Xs and Os. They're really trying to get the best out of you.”
It's never been about talent with Gregory, he has that without question. What he has needed is to be available so that he can showcase it regularly. With his life off the field under control, Gregory is in a much better place mentally which will allow him to let his play speak for itself with more opportunities.