Following three years of football at the University of Michigan, Rashan Gary was chosen by Green Bay GM Brian Gutekunst as the twelfth overall draft pick in early 2019. Let’s take a moment to put that in proper perspective.
Over the Packers’ past ten drafts, they’ve only had a top-25 (or higher) pick four times: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was #21 in 2014 (ouch); Jaire Alexander was #18 in 2018; Darnell Savage was #21 in 2019; and Gary was #12 – also in 2019. Gary, therefore, has been the Packers’ highest draft pick in the last decade. He’s the highest pick since 2009, when B.J Raji was selected at #9. Going back further, since 1993 the Packers have drafted only 2 players ninth overall or better: A.J. Hawk, chosen at #5 in 2006, and Raji, #9 in 2009. Green Bay’s position in the draft in 2019 is a once-in-a-decade occurrence.
2019 was Gutey’s second year as the team’s head drafter – it was a rare opportunity! The GM went with a three-year collegian out of the U of Michigan, where he played defensive end, and weighed in at 289 pounds. While at Michigan he was named All-Big Ten in both his second and third seasons. He also twice made the conference’s All-Academic list – even though he was mocked in college for recording a low Wonderlic score. He is said to have dyslexia.
I don’t recall that he was picked by many forecasters to go that early, though it was not a major surprise: Gary was a big man, a special athlete (dash time of 4.58 – he weighed 277 at that time), and he excelled in a Top-5 conference. Gary repeated his conference honor in his final year even though he played in only nine of 13 games; he was hampered by an injured shoulder for much of the season, and (according to Wikipedia) he chose to sit out the Peach Bowl game to prepare for the draft.
I believe Gutekunst always contemplated that Gary would be used an outside linebacker/edge rusher, though there was some thought given to inserting him, at least on occasion, into the defensive line. In part due to the likelihood he would switch positions in the pros, he’s been viewed as a developmental project, and wasn’t expected to see a lot of action as a rookie.
Gary has indeed been brought along deliberately by the Packers. As a rookie he was in on 244 of the defensive snaps (23.5%); last season that was upped to 456 (44%). In 2019, he recorded 21 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 3 QB hits; in 2020 he 35 tackles, 5 TFLs, 5 sacks, and 11 QB hits.
I suspect the Packers are fine with the progress he has shown to date. But this is now Year 3 – the year that Rashan will either justify the GMs confidence in him or be viewed as a disappointment in light of his status as a top-12 draft pick.
In 2020 Rashan demonstrated that he has both the quickness and the power to be an effective pass rusher. On a number of occasions he simply overpowered his blocker. Whether he can almost double his pass rush stats remains to be seen, though with increased playing time, I would think 10 sacks, 8 TFLs, and 15 QB hits would be reasonable goals for him this season. And as I’ve previously reported, he had the top Pro Football Focus grade at pass coverage out of 108 comparators. He’s versatile.
He appears to be dedicated, coachable, and exceedingly quiet – has he ever made any appearances before the press? Prior to last season, Coach LaFleur indicated that Gary returned to camp in “phenomenal” shape, adding: “One thing you can never question is how Rashan goes after it, his work ethic.”
Rashan won’t be 24 years old until December, which is about the age Jaire Alexander and Davante Adams broke loose with their first big seasons. He’s my pick as the Pack’s next breakout performer.