Packers General Manager Brian Gutekunst and his staff crushed the draft selection of Rashan Gary. Now heading into his fourth season as a pro, I wanted to revisit the Packers drafting Gary back in April of 2019. Green Bay had two 1st round picks that year, opting to spend both of them on defense. Rashan Gary, from University of Michigan, was selected 12th overall while safety Darnell Savage, from University of Maryland, was selected 21st.
Gary was the No. 1 overall prospect in the nation by some accounts when he was in high school, being recruited by most major college programs. He ended up choosing Jim Harbaugh and University of Michigan. While Gary was a top recruit in Ann Arbor, his on-field production, or lack thereof, concerned many NFL teams heading towards the draft. In 34 games with the Wolverines, Gary tallied a total of 10 sacks; far from eye popping numbers for a supposed elite edge player.
On the flip side of that, other teams such as the Packers saw the “raw” athleticism and top tier potential Gary had. Green Bay thought that if they could coach him properly, his talent would probably come to fruition, especially paired with his insane work ethic. Thus, the Packers chose him with their first draft pick in 2019. More than 3 years later, it’s clear they got it right.
Gary’s rookie season was fairly rookie-ish. He didn’t start a single game, serving as a backup and rotational player to Preston and Za’Darius Smith, two established veterans. He played in all 16 regular season games and appeared in 24% of defensive snaps (244 total). He finished the 2019 regular season with 2 sacks, his first ever coming against Joe Flacco and the Denver Broncos.
Meanwhile in Carolina, edge rusher Brian Burns, also a rookie from the 2019 draft class who was selected 4 spots after Gary, totaled 7.5 sacks in his debut season with the Panthers. The rumblings of Burns being good and Gary being a bust were underway.
Heading into 2020, the Packers and their fans were hopeful that Gary would take a leap from Year 1 to Year 2. He did that, registering 5 sacks in the regular season and 1.5 sacks in the playoffs. Yet, he still didn’t have the opportunity to be a full-time starter, serving as a rotational player behind the Smith Brothers. In the 2020 season, Gary played in 17 games (including playoffs) and started 4. He played in 48% of defensive snaps during the regular season.
The Za’Darius Smith injury in Week 1 of the 2021 season fully opened the gate for Rashan Gary to blossom, and blossom he did. In his 3rd season as a pro, Gary started in 16 regular season games for the Packers while putting up impressive numbers. He had 9.5 sacks in the regular season and another 2 in the playoffs.
More notable than the sack numbers, Gary tied for 3rd in the NFL in pressures, which is QB Hurries + QB Knockdowns + All sack plays. He registered 47 in the regular season, tied with Micah Parsons of the Dallas Cowboys. Only TJ Watt, Myles Garrett and Nick Bosa had more pressures than Gary during the regular season.
In addition to his pass rushing ability, Gary has proven time and time again to be a player who’s willing to stop the run at any cost. His toughness, smarts, work ethic and unselfishness came to the surface in 2021 and as a result, is starting to get the kudos and recognition he deserves.
Gary is now entrenched as a full-time starter in the Packers defense and is one of their best players. Paired with Preston Smith at Outside Linebacker, Green Bay has a very talented tandem, given good health.
The plan from the jump, back in 2019, was for Gary to evolve behind Za’Darius and Preston Smith until he was ready to be a full time player. 3+ years later, it’s come to fruition and he is now one of the best edge players in the league. It’s safe to say the Packers nailed their first pick in the 2019 Draft by selecting Rashan Gary.——————
Alex grew up in a family of Chicago Bears fans in the suburbs of Chicago but was always a Packers guy. Alex\'s AIM name when he was in elementary/middle school was PackerAlex. He now lives in Nashville, Tennessee and you can follow him on twitter at @Alex_Mayer93.