In the blink of an eye, the Cowboys just may have one of the fiercest edge rush presences in the NFL in 2018. At the very least, this is one of the best ensembles of raw pass rushing talents that the Cowboys have had in years. The highlight of the 2017 season was the emergence of DeMarcus Lawrence, who was finally healthy. Lawrence became the first Cowboys defensive lineman since Jason Hatcher in 2011 to record double-digit sacks with 14.5.
Behind Lawrence, the Cowboys have Tyrone Crawford, last-year’s first-rounder Taco Charlton, Kony Ealy, Charles Tapper, and this year’s fourth-rounder Dorance Armstrong. Yet, it wasn’t until a few days ago that we found out former 2015 second-round pick Randy Gregory would be rejoining the team after being reinstated by the commissioner. Though Gregory has been on an 18-month layoff, his return can not be overstated. This is huge news for the Dallas Cowboys.
For the past year, Tyrone Crawford was manning the right end spot in Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 front. As admired as Crawford is with his versatility to bounce around wherever he’s needed, he’s not the same type of talent that Randy Gregory is. The same can be said for Taco Charlton, Kony Ealy, Charles Tapper, and Dorance Armstrong as well. Randy Gregory is the prototype for what Marinelli always envisioned his right defensive end would be. It’s more than just being a speed rusher and Gregory checks all the boxes. He’s just a different type of dude.
Gregory is 6’5 and last played at a weight between 240-250 pounds. The ideal weight for a defensive end is anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds heavier but for Gregory it works. His tall and lean musculature may suggest a guy that lacks power but that’s not true in Gregory’s case. He’s got fantastic length with 34 inch arms that allow him to maintain reach on his blockers. He’s also got 10 inch hands that pack incredible power. Gregory’s by far the most explosive athlete that the Cowboys will have competing for the right end spot in camp. According to a piece that Todd McShay wrote prior to the 2018 NFL Draft, here’s a chart measuring NFL thresholds for defensive ends:
|NFL DE Thresholds||40||Shuttle||3-Cone||Vert.||Bench||Broad Jump|
Now, with that in mind, here’s how Randy Gregory measures up with all other candidates for a starting role opposite of DeMarcus Lawrence:
Gregory smashes McShay’s outstanding grades in four of the six categories. Even in the bench press and vertical, where Gregory doesn’t get the outstanding mark, he’s better than the five-year average. Overall, the other Cowboys tested quite well for the most part but it’s clear that Gregory is a special talent.
Though a lot of folks who follow the Cowboys closely don’t want to get their hopes up with Randy Gregory, realize that his journey to reinstatement was no simple task. It’s been a process that will continue probably for the duration of his career. Gregory has put his best foot forward and his past behind him which is why it’s completely warranted to be excited. Now Gregory has focused all of his energy into playing football again which is great news for this Cowboys defense.
Usually it takes players that have spent this much time away from the game a little while to get acclimated but rare talents such as Gregory don’t take long to show up. The last time Gregory was on the football field was Week 17 of 2016. It was only his second game being active after serving a four game ban then a ten game ban consecutively. He was active for a few snaps in a 42-21 win over the Lions. However, in that Week 17 game at the Eagles, Gregory was allowed to start on the right side. In the first defensive series, Gregory recorded this sack:
After missing 14 games, Gregory was able to beat one of the premier left tackles in the game, Jason Peters, to finish this play and notch his only career sack. He also left that game with the second most tackles on the day at seven, one of which was for loss. Gregory’s ability to stay low to the ground, making himself small around the edge, and then using his arm length to explode into his blocker makes him a premier pass rushing talent. He plays with excellent technique that is one of the hardest aspects for young pass rushers to learn. He’s a raw athlete but that is not necessarily a negative thing for him because his explosiveness is unteachable.
When you look at this young defense, especially in the secondary, the best addition will be a ferocious pass rush. Randy Gregory is far and away the best fit on the right side. When you add him to a premier talent like Lawrence, that’s a load for offensive tackles to have to counter. Still, that’s just two guys on an eventual starting line that includes the very disruptive duo of Maliek Collins and David Irving inside at defensive tackle. All of this is not to say that Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, and others don’t have value to this team as well. Still, in a competition for that coveted right end position, it won’t be long before Randy Gregory’s talent level reigns supreme.