GREEN BAY, Wis. – In last year’s NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers selected Rashan Gary with the 12th overall pick.
The return on investment was underwhelming, to say the least. Gary tied for 17th in the entire draft class with two sacks. The fourth edge rusher off the board, Gary ranked 13th in the edge-rusher class in snaps. Brian Burns, the former Florida State standout who went No. 16 to Carolina, had 7.5 sacks. Montez Sweat, the former Mississippi State star who went No. 26 to Washington, had 7.0 sacks. Gary’s former Michigan teammate, Chase Winovich, who went in the third round at No. 77 to New England, had 5.5 sacks. Of the 32 first-round draft picks, 18 started at least half the games and 29 started at least once. Gary didn't start at all.
Nonetheless, the Packers insist they’re pleased with the development of Gary, who played 23.5 percent of the defensive snaps – well behind starters Za’Darius Smith (83.9 percent) and Preston Smith (83.7 percent) as well as Kyler Fackrell (39.9 percent). Heading into 2020, a lot more will be on Gary’s plate following the free-agent departure of Fackrell and the desire to take some of the burden off the Smiths.
“We’re looking forward to Rashan making a big jump,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said on Friday. “It’s a shame that he didn’t have this in-person offseason. I think that would have helped him. From what we hear, the feedback that we got from him, the people that he’s been with, he’s having a really good offseason given the circumstances. So, he needs to take a big jump. When you go back and look at last year’s tape, he did some really good thing with us in the time he was in there. Kyler played a lot, too, and did some good things for us, especially from a drop standpoint. Those drops are going to have to be absorbed throughout that room, but I do see Rashan taking a significantly increased role. I do think at times where Preston and Z probably played maybe a little too much, that we do want to take some off their plate. I do know Rashan is certainly built to handle giving those guys a break. I just think because of his skill-set, we can use him more like we used Z, on third down especially. He can kick down inside and rush from a tackle spot as opposed to always being on the edge.”
Pettine’s words – and the praise delivered during the season by position coach Mike Smith – will ring hollow until Gary delivers. Just look at how last season ended. Ideally, a team wants its rookies to round into form for the playoffs. Instead, Gary played nine snaps against Seattle and three against San Francisco. Then again, Gary was drafted with the knowledge that he would be a bit of a project based on how he was used at Michigan. And when he played, he was solid. With 30 tackles in 244 regular-season snaps, he averaged a tackle every 8.13 snaps. That was the best rate for anyone on the unit.
“He was one of our better guys when we went back and just looked at outside ‘backers setting an edge in the run game, just how physical and how violent Rashan was against tight ends and certain blocking patterns that we realized, hey, we need to get him on the field more,” Pettine said.