When the Dallas Cowboys got Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory in the second round of last April's draft, it was seen as a huge coup for a team that ended up with three "first-round talents" in the draft in first-round pick Byron Jones, Gregory and undrafted free agent offensive lineman La'el Collins.
Gregory had 17 sacks in two years at Nebraska but slipped in the draft due to a problem with marijuana, and the Cowboys took a chance. Then, in the preseason, Gregory had three sacks and looked to be moving in the right direction.
In the regular-season opener, Gregory suffered a high-ankle sprain and missed four games before a return that saw him play only limited action. He finished the year with a goose egg in the sack column.
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While that was discouraging, the Cowboys have some frame of reference to feel OK about Gregory in their second-year breakout DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence was a second-round pick before the 2014 season and finished the regular season with no sacks before getting a couple in the postseason. In 2015, Lawrence led the team with eight sacks, including seven over his last eight games.
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett compared the two, even with the parallel of both having a pretty serious injury that forced them to miss significant time as rookies.
“I do think Randy got better as the year went on,” Garrett told ESPN.com. “Unfortunately for Randy, really like DeMarcus, early on in the season in their first year, they missed time because of injury. Players learn so much when they first start playing because experiences are really vivid in their minds and when you don’t have an opportunity to play early on that sets them back a little bit. But you have to take advantage of the opportunity that you do get and I do think that when Randy did come back in the latter part of the year he played better and better as the year went on, not as productive as any of us would have liked but I do think he made strides."