Rashan Gary started to endear himself to the Green Bay Packers fanbase last year. After a rookie season in which Gary seldom saw the field, some had already soured on the idea that the former first-round pick would amount to anything. His 2020 campaign started quietly but ended with a bang.
Gary became a disruptive force up front for the Packers and even took over Preston Smith‘s starting job near the end of the regular season. Gary ranked highly on many of PFF’s metrics, despite still not seeing a full workload.
Entering Year 3, Gary should have ample opportunity to make life even more miserable for the opposing quarterback. He truly will be the X-factor on this Packers defense.
There are a few certainties when glancing around the position groups on defense.
Barring something completely unexpected, Jaire Alexander will put on full display why he is one of, if not the best, cornerbacks in the entire NFL. The former first-round pick out of Louisville has crafted his game into one built on dominance, swagger, and high football IQ. At this point in his career, the Packers know they will get top-tier cornerback play from him. He has the ability to be on an island against some of the best.
The same can be said for Za’Darius Smith. Since arriving in Green Bay via free agency in 2019, Smith has done nothing but cause chaos for opposing offensive lines. Like Alexander, you know what you’re going to get with Z as long as he’s healthy. There are others like Adrian Amos, Kenny Clark and Preston Smith who are well established in the league at this point and have provided phenomenal play in the land of cheese.
This is what makes Gary’s case that much more intriguing.
Gary was so good at the tail-end of last season that it would appear there are plenty of more layers to his game. But it’s difficult to peg where his ceiling will be. Is he on track to become one of the best rushers in the NFL? That’s what is tough to pin down at this stage.
He played less than half of the Packers snaps on defense last year yet he still led the team in quarterback hurries. Keep in mind that’s on a defense that has Clar, Za’Darius, and Preston Smith. By putting up the numbers he did in that limited amount of snaps, Gary has to have the Packers coaching staff foaming at the mouth.
If Gary keeps elevating his game, keeps getting better and doesn’t plateau, this Green Bay defense becomes all the more intimidating. If Gary stays at the level he’s at now, it’s still real good but could taper some of the expectations for Joe Barry’s defense.
Yes, it’s June. And yes, it’s just team workouts and OTAs. But the early reviews from Matt LaFleur on what everyone has seen in Gary is more than optimistic.
“He’s going to be a big-time player for us, and I think he’s going to be a big-time player in this league for a really long time,” LaFleur said Thursday. “Rashan is working hard to develop multiple moves coming off the edge, but one thing that definitely jumps out, and you see every practice, every game, is just the effort he plays with.” Matt LaFleur.
Fellow edge rusher Za’Darius Smith is seeing much of the same from the former Michigan product.
It’s nice having guys around you like the Smith brothers and Clark. Not only have all three been there done that, but having three players of that level helps alleviate some of the pressure that will be on Gary to produce a massive season for Green Bay.
The offense is getting all the attention right now in Green Bay. Will Aaron Rodgers stay, or will he continue to sit out? Will Jordan Love be the answer, or will he be a bust? Is David Bakhtiari going to be ready by Week 1? Who’s going to be WR2?
All are valid and all will need to be answered at some point. But while all the attention is being paid to the offense, the defense is slowly building a machine. Alexander and Za’Darius Smith are two of the best at their respective positions. As is Clark clogging the middle. The safety duo of Amos and Darnell Savage is as good as it gets. And nobody is really talking about it.
But Gary will determine how good it can be. He’s entering Year 3 looking to be as disruptive as some of the best edge rushers in the game today.