Green Bay Packers

Rashan Gary Is the Real Winner Of the Xavier McKinney Signing

Photo credit: Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

There were many smiling faces in Green Bay when Xavier McKinney put pen to paper at 1265 Lombardi Ave. earlier this month, perhaps none bigger than the one on Rashan Gary’s face.

Adding McKinney on the back end of Green Bay’s defense as a coverage safety blanket will allow the Packers and new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley to be more aggressive and bring rushers more creatively. More rushers mean more times Gary can go one-on-one with an opposing tackle. And when you let Gary go one-on-one with opposing tackles….

Hafley runs a defensive scheme that typically leaves a single-high safety, and we can assume that McKinney is the safety to play that role. As a player, McKinney checks all the boxes to be a rangy ballhawk on the backend.

Hafley is not the only coach who will be happy to see McKinney. Packers passing-game coordinator Derrick Ansley was the lead recruiter who brought McKinney to Alabama. Ansley was also the Crimson Tide’s defensive backs coach during McKinney’s first college season in 2016-17.

McKinney undoubtedly will be in high-leverage positions on Green Bay’s defense. McKinney’s coverage ability takes away options for the quarterback, and having that piece of mind on the back end will allow Hafley to dial up obscure blitz packages. That will allow the guys in the front seven to rally and get after it. Hafley is all about putting players in the best position to succeed.

“Can you take your players and maximize their ability?” Hafley said. “Every player wants to get better, and that’s our job to do. Our job is to put the players in the best position to succeed and make plays, and that’s through the scheme, right? People can say a lot of the scheme is simpler, but it’s very detailed.”

The Packers blitzed often but under Joe Barry’s instruction. Now, they can rush with more confidence in the coverage ability of their deep safeties when McKinney is on the field.

Getting Gary cleaner looks from the edge and more opportunities to take tackles one-on-one will result in big plays for the Packers’ defense, which was near the bottom of the league in forcing takeaways. In 2023, Green Bay’s defense was tied for second to last in the NFL with 18 takeaways.

In 63 career games, Gary has produced 27 sacks, 62 QB hits, three forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. The Packers signed Gary to a massive extension early last season, rewarding him for his efforts with a four-year, $107 million extension. The new money makes Gary the fifth-highest-paid edge rusher in the league behind All-Pros Nick and Joey Bosa, T.J. Watt, and Myles Garrett.

Gary’s underlying pass-rush stats are incredible. According to PFF, Gary is elite in their Pass-Rushing Productivity (PRP) statistic. PRP measures how productive a pass rusher is relative to his opportunities. Gary ranked first in PRP with a rating of 19.3, nearly four points higher than the next player.

He’s also near the top of PFF’s Pash-Rush Win Rate stat, which measures how often a rusher beats his defender to the quarterback, regardless of whether it results in a sack, hit, or hurry. Gary was in second place, with a Pass-Rush Win Rate of 31.8%.

However, Gary is not the only beneficiary of McKinney’s presence. Lukas Van Ness, Preston Smith, and all the other defensive linemen will be in better positions to pursue the quarterback and make big plays in the backfield.

If you thought Rashan Gary was a scary player over the last few years, it’s about to be a whole new nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.

All stats and data via ESPN, NFL, Statmuse and Green Bay Packers unless otherwise noted.

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