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2019 NFL Draft profile: Is Rashan Gary deserving of the eighth overall pick?

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We tackle one of the top Wolverine prospects and dive deep into the film and their fit with the Lions.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Michigan Detroit Free Press-USA TODAY Sports

Every year leading up to the draft, fans will have their school favorites that they believe the Lions should draft. If it’s players from Michigan or Michigan State, then you’ll probably have to hear it a lot around these parts (i.e. drafting Connor Cook to replace Stafford, trading up for Jabrill Peppers, etc.). The hard part is making that transition from college football season to the NFL offseason and moving past the blind homerism while finding legitimate fits for the Lions.

Even as a Michigan State fan myself, it’s difficult to ignore the talent that Michigan football produces, and one talent that is especially difficult not to recognize as a legitimate fit for the Lions is defensive tackle/edge rusher, Rashan Gary.

Rashan Gary, EDGE, Michigan

6-foot-5, 283 pounds

2016 stats: 12 games | 12 solo tackles | 23 total | 5.0 TFL | 0.5 sacks
2017 stats: 13 games | 25 solo tackles | 58 total | 11.5 TFL | 5.5 sacks | 1 FF
2018 stats: 9 games | 20 solo tackles | 38 total | 6.5 TFL | 3.5 sacks

Current draft projection: First or second round

Background

Team profile page

Gary was a highly-touted recruit, receiving the No. 1 ranking in the 2016 class from multiple recruitment sites and received offers from basically every top school you can think of.

On the defensive line, Gary started 21 of 34 career games as a defensive end, but was moved all over the line and did some of his work as a 3-tech for the Wolverines as well. Gary never truly lived up to his hype if you look at the stat sheet, but with his athleticism and skillset, you can almost guarantee that he will be highly coveted by NFL teams, regardless.

Strengths

  • Versatile and has lined up all over the defensive line. Will be listed as a DT or EDGE depending on who you ask.
  • Very gifted athletically. Should test elite whether you think he’s an edge rusher or an interior lineman. Traits have me believing he’s better suited on the edge.
  • Raw power and play strength is off the charts. Controls point of attack well and sets the edge nicely in the run game.
  • When asked to attack, has shown a nice first step with great explosiveness. Closes gaps quickly and doesn’t give quarterback any breathing room
  • Underrated bend and flexibility; has shown the ability to turn the corner with good ankle flexion and decent dip.
  • Not one to give up on plays and exhibits insane amount of effort and motor through the whistle. Can be special if he can pair that with actual hand technique.

Weaknesses

  • Very raw still and relies too heavily on sheer athleticism and talent rather than technique and fundamentals.
  • Hand usage is mostly non-existent and needs a ton of work. Struggled often to disengage despite his best efforts.
  • Hasn’t developed any counter moves and lack of agility/change of direction may hinder his ability to set up an effective inside move.
  • Occasionally late off the snap. Not entirely sure if that has to do with lack of snap anticipation or something he was asked to do, but it showed up often.

Games watched: 2017 vs. Wisconsin, 2017 vs. Indiana, 2018 vs. Penn State, 2018 vs. Ohio State

Overview and Projection

In terms of projection, Gary’s stock is all over the place, and you have just about as many projecting him as a top-five pick as you do bottom-five in the first round or out of the first round entirely. My belief is that NFL teams are going to fall in love with a prospect like Gary if they haven’t already, and if the Lions want him, they’re going to have to draft him at eighth overall. At this point in time, I find it very unlikely that Gary will make it past the top-10.

Gary sets the edge well in the run game, has underrated bend/flexibility and has a ton of room to grow as a pass rusher. Some teams may list Gary as an interior D-lineman while others have him as an edge rusher, and he may end up playing both spots wherever he goes, but I believe he is best suited as an EDGE for his primary role.

For the Lions, Gary is a nice fit and makes a lot of sense to fill the down DE role, with the ability to kick inside as a 3-tech if needed. Patricia and his staff have shown that they can untap the potential of raw, athletic DL (see: Da’Shawn Hand) and turn them into immediate contributors, and three years down the road, I could see Gary turning into an All-Pro lineman.