Who is Rashan Gary, the Talk of the 2019 NFL Draft?

Once considered a prodigy, the Packers rolled the dice on this intriguing prospect. What’s his deal?

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In an NFL Draft that's seen its fair share of surprising picks already, none may be more surprising than the Packers' selection of Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary. While Gary has long been considered one of the most physically talented players in the country, and was the centerpiece of a highly touted Jim Harbaugh recruiting class, he underwhelmed in college and was often considered to be coasting on his abilities.

However, an impressive NFL Draft combine performance changed that narrative a little bit. With the right coaching and team fit, Gary could potentially be a difference maker at the highest level. There's a reason his name is trending today. But who is Rashan Gary, and why is his selection this much of a flash point? We'll dive in.

Rashan Gary's Highlight Reel

Like most highlight videos—this is the point of a highlight video—Gary looks great on film. He's fast, can make plays, and showcases a disruptive speed when engaged. However, his cumulative production numbers don't meet the high-level expectation set by these Vine-length snippets of explosion. Was Gary's lingering shoulder issue more of a big deal than publicly known? Or was something else happening?

Unlike their counterparts in the NBA, NHL and MLB, high school football players have to attend college for three seasons before declaring for the NFL Draft. The biggest critiques of Gary have been about his effort and his motor, but that didn't stop Big 10 coaches from making Gary a First Team All-Big-10 selection in 2017 and 2018, despite the fact that he didn't rank in the top five in any major pass rush category. But production is only one piece of the equation: I remember similar scouting concerns surrounding Jadaveon Clowney when he came out of South Carolina, and he turned out to be a productive NFL player, a difference-maker when healthy. 

Gary, also, has an entrepreneurial bent: His name is trademarked, and last year, he announced that he would start his own sports agency as he entered the NFL Draft—a rookie contract is pretty straightforward, and Gary is using the opportunity to build his own business, with assists from his mother, Jennifer Coney, and veteran NFL Agent Ian Clarke. 

Overall, Gary's high selection is the latest chapter in the time-tested NFL Draft narrative: do you draft for upside and potential, or do you draft productive college players and hope it translates? That's why Gary occupies such a prominent space in the imagination today.

What's Next for His NFL Career with the Packers?

Since taking over from Ted Thompson last year, Packers GM Brian Gutekunst has put his scouting emphasis on speed and difference-makers when it comes to the draft. For instance, last year's first-round pick—Louisville's Jaire Alexander—was considered to be drafted earlier than expected, but the cornerback showed flashes of NFL Stardom in an injury-plagued rookie season. All of Gutekunst's first-round picks have been on the defensive side of the ball—later in the first round, the Packers traded up to 22 to nab Maryland safety Darnell Savage. 

For Gary, it will likely come down to scheme fit with Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who taped together a pass rush last season. Now, with big-money free agents like Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith plugged into Pettine's adaptive scheme, Gary will likely get a shot at outside linebacker, a position he did not play in college but has the physical tools to thrive in. 

“He’ll start in the outside linebacker room. He’s a guy because of his size and speed and versatility, you’d hope you can move him around the front,” Packers scout Joe Hueber told The Detroit Free Press on draft night. While Packers fans are an anxious group, and are hoping to put another contender together before Aaron Rodgers retires, Gary might not need to produce immediately; rather, sitting back and finding where he fits in a new look defense. Expectations at first will be low. But with his ability, this moment in time won't last forever.

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