Yahoo Sports' top 2019 NFL draft prospects, No. 17: Michigan EDGE Rashan Gary

Eric Edholm

Leading up to the 2019 NFL draft, which starts April 25, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down 10 at a time, followed by profiles on our top 30 overall players.

Previous entries: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-61 | 60-51 | 50-41 | 40-31 | 30. Drew Lock | 29. Deandre Baker | 28. Taylor Rapp | 27. Garrett Bradbury | 26. Dexter Lawrence | 25. Jerry Tillery | 24. Josh Jacobs | 23. Christian Wilkins | 22. Cody Ford | 21. Noah Fant | 20. Andre Dillard | 19. Greedy Williams | 18. Dwayne Haskins

17. Michigan EDGE Rashan Gary

6-foot-4, 277 pounds

Key stat: Gary was in on at least a half tackle in 17 of his final 22 games with the Wolverines.

The skinny: Roundly viewed as the top recruit in the high school class of 2016, Gary – a two-time defensive player of the year as a prep – had no shortage of suitors. Michigan came out on top for his services, and it had an edge in having successfully recruited former high school teammate Jabrill Peppers. In 13 games as a true freshman, he collected 27 tackles (five for losses) and one sack for a UM team that would have 11 players drafted the following spring.

In 2017, Gary made 66 stops (12 for loss), six sacks and one forced fumble in 13 starts, being named first-team All-Big Ten. Last season as a junior, Gary wasn’t quite as dominant in nine games, missing time with a shoulder injury, but was still named first-team all-conference. He made 44 tackles (7.5 for loss) and 3.5 sacks

Gary, who turns 22 in December, declared early and skipped Michigan’s bowl game to prepare for the 2019 NFL draft.

Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary plays against Indiana. (AP Photo)
Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary plays against Indiana. (AP Photo)

Upside: From a raw traits perspective, there are few more impressive or imposing figures in the 2019 NFL draft. Gary possesses elite height-weight-speed combination and has qualities that could make him a fascinating chess piece, able to rush from a two- or three-point stance on the outside or kick down inside and win with his quickness and explosiveness. Terrific NFL scouting combine workout. Great length and reach and impressive upper-body strength (26 bench-press reps with 34-inch arms). Wears a size 17 shoe.

Big and strong enough to battle with tight ends and tackles. Has good take-on strength – hands have real pop to them. Rag-dolled some tight ends and even a few tackles. Hard-charging off the snap and is often the first man off the ball. Hustle plays, good effort and energy are all over his tape. Plays the game like he cares. Made many tackles from behind and appeared to energize his teammates with big plays.

Willing to do some dirty work to fill a role. In Michigan’s scheme, Gary was asked to erase tight ends, contain and set hard edges as a 6- or 7-technique, so his pass-rush opportunities were limited at times. Plus run defender who made teams one-dimensional. He shed blockers and blew up blocking schemes that should be counted as “wins” on tape. Strong, smart tackler who doesn’t let many slip through his grip.

More disruptive than his statistics suggest. Flushed out RPOs, screens and option game well – played well in space and light on his feet. Had a handful of strong snaps rushing as a 3-technique that could unlock the imagination of an NFL defensive coordinator. Worked well on stunts and twists with enough sudden initial movement. Has a good bull rush and a one-arm power rush that are effective. Even was asked to drop into coverage and stick with backs, tight ends and receivers in short zones.

Considered intelligent and academics-driven – good student who took his homework seriously. Comes from private-school background and has personal discipline. Quiet personality but lets his play and effort do the talking – exhibited leadership by example. Is a doer – wanted to join the swim team in high school but didn’t know how to swim, so he taught himself from watching YouTube videos. All the parts are there. Elite potential with the correct development. Best football could be in front of him. High-end projection could make him into a versatile, destructive defender whom offenses must gameplan to stop.

Downside: His 2017 tape was better than his 2018 tape, when he was limited by a shoulder injury and didn’t appear to have the same juice. Limited disruptive production – 10.5 sacks, one forced fumble and zero passes defended in 34 career games. Not yet a finisher – left some big plays on the field. Teams schemed against him and his shoulder clearly limited him in 2018, but concerns about his durability must properly be vetted.

Had trouble locating the ball as a rusher – head-down power rusher and often too focused on his man. Rarely got his long arms up in the air to disrupt passing lanes. Snap-count guesser who sometimes lost his gambles. Not enough makeup speed in his rush. Interior rush opportunities were very hot or cold – if he didn’t beat guards off the snap, he could be folded in half or pushed wide of his lane. Hand work might need a reboot.

More of a read-and-react defender than a closer. Can’t bend the edge like many rushers (especially in this class) can. Doesn’t transition well enough from power to speed in his rushes – struggles to turn away from offensive tackles and get his pads perpendicular. Stays squared up and gives them too big a target to block. “Face up” rusher who needs to add some finesse and polish to his game. Too much bull-rush power and too few countermoves and too often can’t turn the corner and finish after circling around the quarterback.

College development was not linear. Flashed natural tools early and thrived as ascending sophomore but failed to build on that. Too many games where he was invisible making plays on the ball. Might take some work before he’s ready to be counted on as a 50-snap, 16-game defender. Not exactly clear where his best position is. Some NFL teams worried that Gary is too focused on his “brand.”

Best-suited destination: Gary is a classic high-risk, high-reward projection in the traits vs. production debate on prospects. Some teams feel he’s an untapped star in time; others worry he might never harness all his natural ability and forever be a one-note player and never a true difference maker.

Still, some team is going to be infatuated with his rare gifts and take him somewhere high, banking on his upside and positional versatility developing over time. Among the clubs that could be most interested in his services include the New York Giants, Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins.

Fun fact: Gary opted not to sign with a traditional agency coming out of school but rather to start his own. After pursuing a marketing and sales track at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, Gary established his own agency: Rashan Gary Sports.

Gary says he wants to “change the game” and provide more for his family, and he’s convinced one other 2019 draft prospect (Bowling Green DB Montre Gregory) to sign with RGS.

They said it: “Well, this is an exceptional guy as a person. Really a fun guy to coach. You like guys when they’re upper-level talent, elite talents, but work extremely hard. You never had to ask Rashan to go. In fact, in some cases, you’d be asking him to slow down. But he’s a unique talent, that’s for sure, and a great young man, so [he’s] a lot of fun to be around.”

— Michigan defense coordinator Don Brown, to NFL Network

Player comp: Gary has similar skills to former Ravens and Patriots EDGE Adalius Thomas, who took a few years to unlock his potential as a two-time Pro Bowler. At his peak he was a versatile difference maker who filled a variety of roles.

Expected draft range: First round

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