Projecting Rashan Gary’s role in the Green Bay Packers defense.
It’s that time of the offseason where the anticipation for training camp is building and fans need anything to fill the void. I am really invested in looking through film of the new draft picks, understanding their fits, and how they can contribute in Year 1.
I will kick this off with the 12th overall pick in the NFL draft, Rashan Gary, heralded as the most polarizing prospect in the draft and one that left more questions than answers.
I have had the opportunity to go through all of his film and my goal is to address many of the concerns attached to him as a prospect.
Why was his sack production so low?
This appears to be the critique cited the most when it comes to Gary’s college career. Touted as the #1 overall high school prospect in his class, he was set up to dominate college football in Michigan.
He predominantly played edge rusher and underwhelmed in this position, logging 9.5 sacks in three years. This was my biggest concern heading into this year before I went through the film. When I had the opportunity to study his 2017 and 2018 film, it was apparent that his impact was much greater than what the stat sheet indicated.
Michigan’s defense relied heavily on Gary to soak double teams to open up the rest of the defense. He has such a strong combination of weight and speed for an edge rusher, and teams clearly avoided him. Offensive lines, tight ends, and running backs were constantly schemed his way to provide chips or to double team him.
In the running game, many plays were either run away from him or linemen were given support by a tight end when offenses run in his direction. He was not given too many opportunities to succeed as an edge rusher on passing downs as well, given that he was chipped a lot by tight ends and running backs.
This may seem strongly biased, but offenses focused a lot of their attention on Gary and making sure he was neutralized. However, this is not coupled with flaws when he was rushing the passer. When he was given some 1-on-1 opportunities to rush the passer, he rarely went in with a plan. His biggest issue as a pass rusher is running himself out of plays and not being able to move inside to get to the quarterback, which is certainly a trait that can be corrected with coaching.
Projecting Gary’s role in Packers defense
When scouting Gary, something that stood out to me in terms of measurables was the absurd combination of playing weight and speed. He played around 280 pounds at Michigan and ran a 4.6 second 40-yard dash at the combine.
Those measurables show up on film, as he has a great pursuit and quickness that isn’t common for somebody of that playing weight. His incredible physical traits made him versatile at Michigan, as he was able to play inside and outside on the defensive line. He presented matchup problems at Michigan because of this, which only benefits what Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine wants to accomplish.
Pettine’s defensive scheme relies on moving players around the defensive line and secondary to create matchup problems across the board. His scheme is also based around confusion around the defensive line, where he loves to bring unique personnel grouping and pressure packages with certain players.
Similar to recent offseason signing Za’Darius Smith, Gary projects to play a similar role as someone who can move across the defensive line to create issues. Gary and Smith were both able to succeed as inside and outside pass rushers, which figures to help Pettine create more matchup nightmares for opposing offenses. Despite the outside linebacker roles designated to both Gary and Smith, Pettine will not be shy to move them around.
While there is a possibility Gary could develop into a starter by the end of the season, he may need to refine his technique before he can contribute a lot of snaps to the rotation. His biggest pitfall is rushing off the edge without a great plan to get to the quarterback, which can be taught. I expect him to be considered a backup entering his rookie campaign that should develop into a starter a year or two down the road.
Despite the incredible physical traits he showed off at the combine, it may take a bit for him to develop if he can refine his technique off the edge and ultimately carve himself a role after his rookie season.
I expect that he will be a great rotational player to join the likes of Kyler Fackrell, Reggie Gilbert, Dean Lowry, and fellow rookie Kingsley Keke. My excitement for Gary stems off his incredible athleticism, despite his need to develop more technique. Coaches can’t teach athleticism, but they can refine players to fit their system.
The Packers have experienced coaches in Mike Pettine and Mike Smith, the OLB coach who should have a big impact on Gary’s development, who can mold Gary into a star by the end of his rookie campaign.