Green Bay has a potential star in Rashan Gary. His play was much improved in year two, but is he ready to take an even bigger leap in year three? Let’s dive in!
The Green Bay Packers selected Rashan Gary with the 12th overall pick in the 2019 draft. With his talent and physical abilities, Gary was viewed as a pass rusher with high upside. While his potential was lofty, Gary never quite put up the production totals expected in college. The traits and athleticism were certainly there, he just needed time to get coached up and develop.
During his first two seasons in Green Bay, Rashan Gary made strides in both his play and approach to the game. In this article, I run through his first two seasons with the Packers and why he could be in for a big step in year three.
Rookie Season (2019)
2019 Stats: 21 tackles (13 solos), 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 3 QB hits, 1 fumble recovery, 244 (24%) defensive snaps
As I said earlier, the Packers drafted Gary with the 12th overall pick in 2019. No matter the circumstance, fans will expect a player with that kind of draft capital to show something right away. The problem was, Green Bay had just made two major signings at pass rusher with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. Green Bay’s pass rush needed an overhaul and both Smiths, along with Gary, were a welcomed presence.
To say the “Smith Bros” hit the ground running for the Packers would be an understatement. They combined for 25.5 sacks in 2019 and instantly made Green Bay’s pass rush one to be feared. However, with the Smiths playing so well, it didn’t leave many snaps for rookie Rashan Gary.
Being patient with Gary might actually have been a good thing. He needed time to fine-tune his game, and watching the Smiths go to work would certainly help. While he didn’t get on the field much as a rookie, it’s safe to say the competition was stiff.
Second Season (2020)
2020 Stats: 35 tackles (19 solos), 5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 11 QB hits, 1 fumble recovery, 456 (44%) defensive snaps
Enter year two. Right away, the reports from Packers training camp were that Rashan Gary showed up in fantastic shape. Not only did Gary put in the work physically, but he also did his homework to really understand the nuances of Green Bay’s defensive scheme. Gary was a standout during camp, making impact plays off the edge regularly. It appeared Green Bay had three big-time pass rushers to mix into their defensive scheme.
When the season hit, it was apparent Gary’s role had expanded with him playing 65% of snaps in Week One and 56% in Week Two, respectively. Gary had a great Week Two outing, producing four tackles (two solos), one and a half sacks, and two quarterback hits. Za’Darius Smith continued his impressive play in 2020, but Preston Smith’s play dipped quite a bit in year two.
Gary outplayed Preston Smith and was more efficient with his snaps as he generated 46 pressures to Preston’s 29, per PFF, in about 350 fewer defensive snaps. This forced Green Bay to find ways to get the three of them on the field together more.
While his role increased, Gary’s snap shares varied throughout the season. However, he did end up making four starts and almost doubled his snap share from his rookie year. Gary also played well down the stretch for Green Bay and came up big in the playoffs. In Green Bay’s first playoff game, he was a problem for the opposing Rams. He generated seven total pressures on the day and turned them into one and a half sacks.
Gary was a much-improved player in his second season and played some of his best ball at the end of the year. His strong finish, paired with the steady disruption he created, is very promising going forward. In fact, if you look at the image below, you can see just how disruptive Gary actually was.
The top 10 defensive disruptors of 2020! 💪 (via @NextGenStats)
— NFL (@NFL) June 3, 2021
What’s in store for Year Three?
This off-season, the Packers let defensive coordinator Mike Pettine go and hired Joe Barry. The word right now is the defensive scheme isn’t going to be changing all that much. What is changing, however, is the language and play calls. It is notable that all the defensive position coaches returned to the staff.
The familiarity between the returning coaches and players should greatly help the transition to Barry’s scheme. Barry has already said he’s excited to utilize all three of his talented pass rushers and will find ways for the three of them to be on the field together. We will have to wait a bit as the off-season stuff progresses before we fully know what the scheme will look like.
With his strong finish to the 2020 season, Rashan Gary built some nice momentum going into his third season. He is a young, ascending player that the Packers should view as a key piece for the future. All that adds up to a player who NEEDS to be on the field more this season. While I do expect Preston Smith to improve from last year, make no mistake — Gary’s coming for a starting spot.
There’s always the worry that more opportunity doesn’t always lead to the desired results. However, with Gary, I think he will continue to progress with more snaps. He has all the tools physically and athletically and also has the drive required to improve. Gary has also worked hard to improve his pass-rushing repertoire and technique. He is a potential star in the making for Green Bay and below are a few standout plays from last season.
(I love the relentless pursuit on this play from Gary. He beats the initial block, shrugs off another after that, and has the speed to get home for the sack.)
Impressive watching 6'4 277 4.58 hunt in a straight line… Explosive! Stiff in lower half, but he can cover some serious ground in a linear path!
Rashan Gary has been playing so much faster/confident in 2020. Glad the results are starting to show up on field… Patience people! pic.twitter.com/dVpODEGN1P
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 14, 2020
On this play, Gary shows his ability to play the run. He sets the edge, holds his ground, and takes down Derrick Henry before he gets going:
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) December 28, 2020
What does this mean for IDP fantasy leagues? It means that, in leagues where Gary has Edge or DL designation, I’m buying. Managers should be able to draft Gary late in drafts and he shouldn’t cost you much to acquire via trade. He makes for a nice upside depth piece or a rotational Edge/DL in leagues where you start 3-4 players.
Gary is an impact player who is set up for more opportunities this year, making him one of my favorite cheap targets for my IDP squads. Acquiring him now could pay big dividends when the season hits.