Randy Gregory's marijuana use makes draft status unclear

How far will Randy Gregory fall in the upcoming NFL draft? Out of the top five? The top 10? The first round?

At what point will a team determine that prodigious talent trumps the risk of selecting a player who failed a drug test at the scouting combine and has admitted to habitually smoking marijuana?

From a football perspective, Gregory is a coveted prospect. At nearly 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, Gregory could play outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. In two seasons at Nebraska, he compiled 17½ sacks and 29 tackles for loss and twice was named first-team All-Big Ten.

Some scouts view Gregory as a tweener, someone who can't play all three downs because he doesn't yet have enough bulk. But Gregory has the requisite quickness to come off the edge and get to quarterback, and pass-rushers are the most coveted draft commodity aside from quarterbacks.

Mel Kiper's initial mock draft, which came out before Gregory's failed combine test, had Washington picking Gregory at No. 5. In his latest mock, Kiper has Gregory falling to Chicago at No. 7, while Todd McShay has Gregory going to the New York Jets at No. 6.

But could Gregory fall even further? Failing a drug test at the combine, when the player and his representatives know the test is going to be administered, is "a failed intelligence test," said one NFL scout.

"Some people look at pot and say, 'It is just pot,'" one former general manager said. "Some people say, 'Does it mean he'll be late with other things? Will he make poor choices?' He knew the test was coming at the combine. Everybody does.

"To me, to smoke pot tells me you don't care. Or, are you just not thinking straight? And if you're not thinking straight, then are you not going to be thinking straight on Saturday night before a game? Are you going to be thinking straight when you have to be at practice at 8 o'clock and you don't show up until 7:55? Are you going to be late because you're not thinking straight? Where is the line with that capacity for him?"

In an interview with NFL Media's Kimberly Jones last month, Gregory claimed he is now clean. His agent, Deryk Gilmore, told ESPN that he would soon send all 32 teams proof that Gregory is clean but declined to make Gregory available for an interview.

Under NFL policy, Gregory will enter the league in Stage 1 of the substance abuse program for a minimum of 90 days because he failed the drug test at the combine. Another failed test while in Stage 1 would cost Gregory three game checks and move him into Stage 2 of the program. Also, the medical director overseeing Gregory's case could advance him into Stage 2 at his discretion. Players in Stage 2 are subjected to more frequent testing and can be suspended without pay for four games after their next failed test.

As Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly likes to say, a player's best ability is his availability. For the team that drafts Gregory, his availability will be directly tied to his ability to stay clean.

Gregory was not highly recruited out of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Indiana. He committed to Purdue but failed to qualify academically. Gregory instead enrolled at Arizona Western, a junior college in Yuma, Arizona.

As a freshman, Gregory played so well that coach Tom Minnick and defensive coordinator Jerry Dominguez opted to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme the following season.

Gregory broke his foot early in his sophomore season at Arizona Western but was still heavily recruited by Nebraska, Purdue, Oklahoma and other major programs. He chose the Cornhuskers and was so disruptive in his first season that then-coach Bo Pelini told ESPN.com, "He'll be a top NFL draft pick when it's all said and done."

But Gregory says he was a frequent pot smoker at Nebraska. He claimed in the NFL Media interview that he stopped smoking in December, but still failed the combine test. Is he lying? Or had he been such a heavy user that he couldn't pass a drug test some two months after quitting?

Aside from the marijuana issue, two teams this week expressed athletic concerns with Gregory. He "wins with effort," according to one NFL personnel executive, so athletically some of his impact would be limited. Another viewed Gregory as a player who could produce eight sacks a season, with some second-effort, scramble-around sacks.

So which team will draft Gregory? After speaking with scouts, current and former team executives and coaches, here's a Randy Gregory mock draft:

No. 1, Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers need a quarterback and likely will select Florida State Jameis Winston.

No. 2, Tennessee. The Titans likely will take Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota or USC defensive end Leonard Williams or trade down.

No. 3, Jacksonville. Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell talked last year about the need for having quick and athletic pass-rushers, which remains a team need. But Jacksonville has endured misfiring on wide receiver Justin Blackmon, for whom they traded up to pick fifth overall in 2012. Blackmon was suspended twice in 2013 for violating the league's substance abuse policy, missed all of 2014 and remains indefinitely suspended.

No. 4, Oakland. Aside from wide receiver, pass-rusher is the Raiders' biggest need. Only one team (Cincinnati) had fewer sacks than the Raiders in 2014. General manager Reggie McKenzie cut his teeth in the Green Bay Packers organization and believes character is important, but he has admitted a willingness to take risks on players because the talent pool is too small. McKenzie might consider Gregory with the third pick in the second round, but it's highly unlikely at this spot.

No. 5, Washington. Head coach Jay Gruden raved about Gregory's athleticism at the recent owners meetings, saying of Gregory, "He can bend and do everything you want as a pass-rusher." Gregory would fit the team's biggest need, but it remains to be seen what new general manager Scot McCloughan's philosophy will be when it comes to a players with character questions.

No. 6, New York Jets. Would a rookie general manager and a rookie head coach -- Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles -- want to use their first draft pick on a player with baggage? It's unlikely, even though Gregory's skill set would be a great fit for the Jets. But it's the 20th anniversary of the Warren Sapp draft. Sapp also failed a drug test at the combine, and the Jets passed on the future Hall of Famer, selecting Penn State tight end Kyle Brady instead at No. 9. Big mistake.

No. 7, Chicago. Under new coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, the Bears are in the process of switching to a 3-4 base defense, and Gregory would fit the system. He is considered raw, but Fangio made a living with the 49ers by aggressively rushing the passer. Plus, Fox is a veteran head coach who has dealt with troubled players in the past.

No. 8, Atlanta. The Falcons might prefer Missouri defensive end Shane Ray, who likely will be gone by the time they pick. Gregory would fit a glaring need, and Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli selected Justin Houston, who also failed a combine drug test, while in Kansas City in 2011. But Houston was a third-round pick, not No. 8 overall.

No. 9, New York Giants. Tom Coughlin has been around long enough to not be scared by a player with a history of marijuana use. While the Giants run a 4-3 base defense and Gregory is likely a better fit in a 3-4, they could use him as a situational rusher while he puts on weight. This could be a good fit.

No. 10, St. Louis. Asked at the combine if it was safe to assume the Rams won't draft a pass-rusher -- they already have Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Aaron Donald on the defensive line -- St. Louis general manager Les Snead said, "I have a fear. I never want to run out of defensive linemen." So there's always a chance the Rams could select Gregory here and groom him under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Head coach Jeff Fisher isn't afraid to bring in players with character flaws.

Here's where things get interesting. One respected talent evaluator said he thinks Gregory will go "anywhere from 10 on down." Some teams "will have him off the board," he said. "There's enough there where you wouldn't take him in the top five."

No. 11, Minnesota. The Vikings drafted wide receiver Percy Harvin, who also failed a combine drug test, No. 22 overall when general manager Rick Spielman was the team's vice president of player personnel.

No. 12, Cleveland. The Browns badly need a pass-rusher, but wide receiver Josh Gordon is currently suspended for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy and quarterback Johnny Manziel has sought treatment at a rehab facility.

No. 13, New Orleans. The Saints also badly need a pass-rusher, but the franchise has made it a priority this offseason to sign professionals with character and maturity.

Not many draft experts think Gregory will slip past the Saints. If he falls further, the risk becomes easier to tolerate with each passing selection. A team could trade up to acquire him, but that seems unlikely in the top half of the first round. The more likely scenario is that a team might be willing to trade down, to minimize the risk. The longer Gregory stays on the board, the more attractive he becomes.

"The draft is about risk management," said ESPN analyst Louis Riddick. "How do you manage the risk of taking this player? You start by moving him down your draft board, and then can your team handle taking a player like him and keeping him right, or you don't take him.

"This isn't a typical 'I smoked some weed with my friends.' This kid is smoking a lot. He said, 'During my time at Nebraska, I was at my worst smoking marijuana.' OK. Smoking weed is obviously very important to him. He says it's not anymore, but his history says it is, it is something he needs, something he depends on. He says he used to smoke to deal with anxiety, whatever that is caused by. There are a lot of red flares. Not red flags. Red flares."

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold contributed to this report.