Vikings visit with red-flagged talent

The Vikings continued due diligence with defensive end Randy Gregory, a big-time talent with a history of marijuana use. Will that cause him to fall to No. 11, and will the Vikings be willing if available? Get the extensive on- and off-field report on Gregory.

The Minnesota Vikings are covering all their bases, as usual, with their predraft research.

A month ago, no one would have expected that former Nebraska pass rusher Randy Gregory had a shot of being available for the Vikings with the 11th pick in this year’s draft. However, after a positive test for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine, Gregory’s draft stock is up for debate. Whether that test triggered the Vikings’ interest in bringing Gregory in as part of the team’s predraft “top 30” visits this week or not, they are doing their homework on him.

Gregory admitted to the positive test publicly late last month – and owned up to his past marijuana use. Now the challenge for NFL draft decision-makers will be determining if Scout.com’s No. 4-ranked overall prospect will be able to steer clear of further positive tests.

“I blame myself,” Gregory told NFL.com. “And I know it sounds cliché, but there’s really no one else I can blame.”

Gregory said he learned of the positive test during a phone call with his father. When his father told him of a letter he received from the NFL, Gregory thought it was going to be an invitation to attend the draft and asked his father to open it. Instead, it informed him of his failed drug test.

He told NFL.com smoking marijuana was a problem for him in the past, but he believes that is where the problem is buried.

“I don’t wake up every day saying, I’d really love to go smoke,” he said. “It’s not a struggle for me every day (now), it really isn’t. In the past, hell yeah, it’s been a struggle. It really has been. Now, I’m focused on my dream.”

Will NFL teams believe him? That is literally the million-dollar question for him moving forward.

A positive test at the combine means he will enter the NFL in Stage 1 of the league’s substance abuse program. A second positive test would put him in line for a four-game suspension, with steeper penalties (and fines) coming with any successive violations.

The on-field work Gregory did at the combine was impressive.

His 36½-inch vertical jump tied for fifth among the 55 defensive linemen at the Scouting Combine and his 4.64-second time in the 40-yard dash was sixth. But he also declined to do all of the agility tests, citing leg cramps. At Nebraska’s pro day, he decided to let his combine numbers speak for themselves, despite not competing in the 20- and 60-yard shuttles or the three-cone drills in Indianapolis.

Those measures of short-area quickness are actually considered Gregory’s strengths as a player, and they should be considering his size. At almost 6-foot-5, he weighed in at 235 pounds, 11 pounds lighter than any of the other defensive linemen, most of whom are 260 to 300-plus pounds.

While he reportedly started his career at Nebraska at 215 pounds, he got up to 255 pounds within two years. He then dropped weight to improve his quickness, and he could be considered a linebacker by some NFL teams.

In addition to the marijuana issues, he also brings some history of injuries that could be a concern to NFL teams, which could be another reason the Vikings wanted be sure all their cross-checks were completed on him. In general manager Rick Spielman’s draft research, information is king.

Gregory missed the 2012 season with a broken leg, then required a “minor medical procedure” last year after suffering a sprained knee against Florida Atlantic. That caused him to miss only one game, but an ankle sprain and concussion took him out of another game against Iowa.

Still, Gregory started 20 of 24 games as Nebraska’s weakside defensive end, recording 120 tackles, including 29 for losses, 17½ sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two interceptions, four deflected passes and two blocked kicks.

The talent and athleticism is obvious. The positive drug test and his ability to put that problem in the past will be the key belief for NFL teams making a call on Gregory in the first round of the draft. No doubt the Vikings asked him about that this week.

He said he hadn’t smoked marijuana since December, but his elevated levels from the past triggered a positive test. He said his marijuana use was discussed in all 29 formal and informal interviews with NFL teams at the combine.

“I want people to understand I’m not some dumb jock pothead. I’m not,” he told NFL.com. “I’m intelligent. I love the people who help me, I love my family, I love my support group. I love football. I love winning. And I don’t want to be labeled as some bust that couldn’t make it because he smoked. And I won’t be labeled as that.

“So I just want people to understand that. This may be a setback. You may look at me a certain way, but at the end, I’m still going to be on top. I’m still going to do well.”

Here is the in-depth scouting report on Gregory’s impressive on-field abilities from NFL scout Dave-Te’ Thomas:

Teams will be well-served to monitor the knee problems that cost Gregory two full games and action in two others this season. They also need to be a bit concerned about a defensive end who is what is politely termed as being a “picky eater” who has failed to develop the bulk that will obviously be needed, if he is to remain as a level-one defender.

Those teams that might consider him to be a better option as a linebacker in a 3-4 base defense can see that he has the straight-line speed and hands to compete for the ball and cover on assignments in front of him, but he claimed hamstring issues for not running certain agility tests at the NFL Scouting Combine and during Nebraska’s pro day that weigh heavy in evaluating a player’s lateral mobility and range (shuttle and three-cone drills).

Despite that missed playing time, he finished the season with 50 tackles, including a team-high seven sacks, 10 stops-for-loss and 16 quarterback hurries. The Big Ten Conference leader in sacks in 2013, the Arizona Western transfer has had injury problems in the past, as a leg fracture sidelined him for the 2012 campaign. He then joined the Nebraska program in 2013, adding 9.5 sacks and 16 stops-for-loss among his 65 tackles that year.

Some scouts are viewing Gregory as a potential 3-4 weak-side linebacker, but I see him more as a rush end type in that alignment, as he has a very good understanding for leverage and is very elusive working off the edge. He has strong and active hands and demonstrates outstanding outside arm-free strength that makes it very hard for bigger blockers to knock him back off the ball. He can get across face quickly and has the lower body strength and flexibility to sink his hips, drop his weight and gain leverage.

Gregory has the arm power and body control to split double teams, but it is also because of his quickness that he can beat most blocks. Even when he is not quick to shed, he can execute the cross-face move quickly. He displays good initial quickness to create penetration and disruption in the backfield. He also shows very good range and closes in a hurry when chasing in pursuit. He is also the type that plays with a chip on his shoulder, and despite obviously giving up considerable bulk he’s not afraid to mix it up with the bigger offensive tackles (see battle with Rob Havenstein in the Wisconsin clash).

As a pass rusher, he can beat you with either his speed or power, possessing very good body control and excellent hip snap. Among his 9.5 sacks in 2014, eight came inside the red zone, including two on goal-line snaps. There are times he will play too tall and must do a better job of using his hands to protect his lower body from cut and chop blocks, as his above-average strength is in his upper frame.

Gregory does struggle to anchor vs. the bigger offensive tackles, but he has good escape speed and an array of moves that let him get up the field and disrupt in the backfield. He shows adequate discipline with contain, and when given the green light to attack the passer he is able to turn the corner or quickly go outside-in to get a more direct path to the quarterback.

His upper body strength is highlighted when he uses it to get movement in his bull rush, as he’s become quite savvy in knowing when to release with his hands in order to harass a scrambling passer. There are times when he will move inside to a three-technique spot on some plays to take advantage of his quickness and ability to disrupt passing lanes (two interceptions and four pass deflections for Nebraska). With his balance and low pad level, he does a nice job when he jumps over and uses his hands to beat cut blocks.

As a run stuffer, he limited ball carriers to 31 yards on 48 plays directed at him, making 10 stops-for-loss on those running plays, along with stopping five runners for no gain. With his long arms and legs, he is more effective on the move, but his first-step quickness allows him to slip past bigger blockers when trying to give chase or neutralize the cut-back lanes. He’s a very good athlete for his frame, though, demonstrating the quick feet and excellent change-of-direction skills on double moves, delayed twists.

Gregory is a potentially strong edge run defender as 4-3 end or 3-4 linebacker. He is very effective at remaining balanced out of his stance, and he knows how to extend his arms to keep distance. He is able to shed to get to the ball on either side of the block and shows good backfield awareness. He’s the type that is willing to lower his shoulder and stand his ground vs. pulling guards and moving tight ends.

His problems occur when he tries to get down the line, but is quickly engaged by interior blockers, who can stall him and push him back when his chest is too exposed when first engaging the linemen on inside runs. If he uses his spin move, he has the ability to beat reach blocks to get into the backfield, though.

The thing I like is the way he can squeeze through the tiniest of creases to get into the backfield. He plays with tough aggression and is a disruptive force that needs to be accounted for on every play. He displays excellent knee bend, hip flip and balance to stay up on his feet. He can adjust on the run and is best when he plays a variety of positions (stunts) off the edge.

His speed is his best pass rush asset, but Gregory also has solid hand placement to slip out and avoid blocks on the move. He comes off the edge with a sudden burst, and when asked to shoot the gaps, blockers are often surprised by his explosion through the holes. The thing you see on film since his he joined the Husker program is that he combines his suddenness with efficient counter moves to pressure the pocket. He has also developed swim and rip moves working inside but is better at getting to the quarterback when playing off the edge.

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