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Rashan Gary has potential ... but will that be enough with the Packers?

Retired defensive end Stephen White isn’t completely down on Gary’s NFL prospects, even though he was frustratingly inconsistent at Michigan.

The Green Bay Packers picked Rashan Gary 12th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Here’s what Stephen White had to say about Gary ahead of the draft:

I have to say, as a prospect, Rashan Gary confounds me a bit.

On tape he looked like a guy who should have made a lot of plays, but he didn’t actually make a lot of them in the four games that I watched.

At the combine he also performed like a top athlete, running a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash and notching a vertical leap of 38 inches, which is kinda wild for a guy who is 6’4 and almost 280 pounds. But, again, I didn’t always see that kind of speed and explosiveness on the field.

I was starting to wondering if maybe he was playing out of position at defensive end since he is pushing 280 pounds. Perhaps he would be better off as a defensive tackle instead. I mean, a defensive tackle who can run a sub 4.6 could definitely be lit. However, when he did get a few opportunities to kick inside as a three-technique at Michigan, Gary wasn’t exactly a world beater there, either.

I don’t want to give the impression that I am ragging on Gary, because he really didn’t play all that poorly, overall. In fact, to the contrary, he did do some things pretty well. I guess I just kept waiting to see more from him, but, unfortunately, that more hardly ever came.

[How’s the Packers pick stack up? 2019 NFL Draft first round grades]

Gary has shown he can get it done against the run.

As a run defender, Gary was at his best when taking on tight ends in a six-technique (head-up alignment). He did a good job of coming off hard, taking those guys on, then escaping off their block to get to the ball carrier.

Whether the running back was trying to bounce outside, or cut back inside, Gary was usually able to knock the tight end back enough to help force the running back where he didn’t want to go. Then it was just a matter of getting them on the ground.

I definitely think the way he was able to jack up tight ends will translate well for him on the next level. He looks to be very adept at setting the edge against the run.

Gary also found himself unblocked on read option-type zone plays quite a bit in the four games that I watched. Especially on zone plays away, he did a good job of chasing runs down from behind. Those were the plays where I was actually able to see some of that speed show up on tape.

His athleticism also made an appearance on those read option-type plays when he was the guy the quarterback was trying to option off of. Gary was often able to slow-play the quarterback and make the tackle on the running back when the quarterback gave it, and on other plays he was quick enough to adjust on the fly and take down the quarterback when he kept it.

Gary also did a good job using his hands when engaging offensive linemen on running plays. He wasn’t real flashy, but he got the job done for the most part as a run defender.

I don’t have much trepidation about Gary playing the run in the NFL, at least not as an edge defender. He wasn’t exactly a force against the run in college, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying. He is plenty big and strong enough to at least hold his own out on a tackle’s edge or wider. And, as I said before, he did some pretty good work taking on tight ends as well.

Gary is frustrating when he rushes the passer, though.

As for playing him anywhere inside, I think he may eventually be a viable pass rusher there, but I am not sure you’d want to have him at defensive tackle on run downs. Like I said, I didn’t get to see him a lot as a three-tech in those four games, but what I did see was certainly a mixed bag.

While he did have some good plays, a couple of the bad plays were downright ugly.

Ultimately, it may not matter whether Gary can play the run well from the defensive tackle position or not. There is no guarantee that whichever team drafts him will want him anywhere but on the edge.

However, one of the reasons I would think about trying him there at all in the NFL is I’m not sold on his ability to rush the passer from outside. He flashed at times rushing as an edge rusher, but all too often he wasn’t able to generate much pressure in one-on-one situations against an offensive tackle.

I swear, it was truly weird for me to watch how different Gary would look as a pass rusher from play to play, too. One play he was at least making moves and using his hands to try to get free; the next, he was just kind of running into the guy.

Maybe most damning of all, on some of the plays where Gary did his best moves, he still wasn’t able to actually lay a finger on the quarterback.

There was one play in those four games that really drove this point home for me. I saw Gary get off the rock like he was shot out of a cannon. He was lined up as the left edge rusher and it just so happened that the opposing right tackle was also late off the ball on this particular play.

It appeared Gary was going to get a gimme sack just by just blowing right past the tardy tackle, but, somehow, that tackle ended up catching up to him and was able to ride Gary right on past the level of the quarterback.

Yeah, the quarterback stepped up, but I expected him to be a sitting duck for Gary’s speed rush.

I had to rewatch that play over and over because it just didn’t make sense to me that the play ended without a sack after how it started off.

That was the most blatant example that I saw, but there were plenty of others like it in those four games, too. It seems obvious that Gary should have been a better pass rusher given all of his physical gifts, but it’s not as obvious as to why he wasn’t.

He’s athletic, fast, strong, and he has moves, but he rarely put all of his skills together well enough to actually generate pressure as a pass rusher.

He still flashed as a pass rusher ... just not often enough.

I don’t hold it against Gary that he didn’t have any sacks in those four games because I know from personal experience how tricky getting sacks can be. I also know that that they usually come in bunches, so it’s entirely possible that these were just the “wrong” four games to watch when it came to seeing him take quarterbacks down.

What was concerning to me, however, was that in addition to no sacks, Gary also only ended up with seven pressures by my count. Mind you, one of those came on a screen play where he was unblocked, and another came on an RPO.

Even without the sacks, I thought surely I’d see him win a lot more in one-on-one pass rushes situations. That simply wasn’t the case, however. And it’s not like he didn’t have plenty of opportunities.

Gary seemed to be perpetually a step late even on his pass-rush wins. The start of his pass rushes would usually look pretty good, especially on some of his power rushes. But by the time he’d finally try to escape off the block, the ball would already be gone.

I will say that Gary does have some decent pass-rush moves, and he isn’t strictly a finesse guy trying to run around blocks all the time, which is good. However, none of that changes the fact that he simply wasn’t much of a factor at all as a pass rusher in the games I saw.

Hell, two plays in the Notre Dame game were the only times when I saw Gary win with straight speed rushes. But even then it was after halftime, with Michigan already down by double digits, and those were back-to-back plays. If I could have seen Gary rush like that consistently in four games, then my confusion about him would be null and void. Those are the kinds of pass rushes that would get me excited about any defensive line prospect.

Alas, those two plays ended up being anomalies, instead.

Gary CAN be an impact player in the NFL, but I don’t know if he WILL be.

Maybe his defensive line coach in the NFL will be able to tap into Gary’s potential and get him going as a pass rusher, but there are never any guarantees with that. With his athletic profile I can understand why someone would assume that Gary will raise his game up on the next level, but I still have to wonder why that didn’t happen while he was still in college, especially at a big-time program like Michigan.

Gary did have some nice effort plays in the four games that I watched, so his motor is a plus. He had a handful of plays where he pulled up before the whistle was blown while other guys were still sprinting that looked kinda bad, but for the most part he ran to the ball with a sense of urgency, particularly when he thought he had a chance to get in on the tackle.

So, in a nutshell, Gary is a big, strong, athletic defensive end who plays the run pretty well, has a decent motor, but who also looks to be, in spite of all of his physical gifts, pretty average as a pass rusher at the moment.

He also doesn’t necessarily have a lot of position flexibility on the next level, although that may change later on in his career if he bulks up a little.

I wish Gary all the best, and I do think he has a ton of potential. I just have a hard time seeing him becoming an elite player on the next level. I can’t even really be sure what his best position will be in the NFL right now, considering that I think he may struggle early to get pressure from the edge.

The talent and the skillset are there, but he is going to have to put that all together better in the pros than he did in college for him to be a playmaker in the NFL.

I can see why teams would feel like they could be the ones to really tap into his potential, but I think the downside risk would be too much for me to take him on the first night of the draft.

There are sometimes when potential trumps production, but I’m just not sold that this is one of those times.

It is what it is.

For the purposes of this breakdown, I watched former Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary play against Notre Dame, Penn State, Rutgers, and Ohio State. Those represented the first, ninth, 10th, and 12th games on Michigan’s schedule last season, respectively.