Over one million kids play high school football in America every year. That is a crazy high number, but when you think about it, it makes sense. All of the high schools in your area likely have programs. Every Friday night there is always something to do due to a football game you could pop in and watch. Football is about as ingrained into American upbringing as the education system itself.
Of those million or so kids who are playing high school football, probably a little more than a fourth of them are seniors. So if you think about it, somewhere around 250,000 kids are in their final year of recruiting to potentially play college football.
Imagine that number.
Now imagine being No. 1.
That was Rashan Gary.
At 6-foot-5, 280 pounds from Paramus Catholic High School in Paramus, NJ, Gary was not only the No. 1 defensive end of the 2016 recruiting class, he wasn't only the No. 1 defensive player, he wasn't only the No. 1 overall player, he was tied for the highest rated recruit in 24/7 Sports' history of recruit with a perfect 1.0000, 5-star grade.
Gary has been on a path to the NFL since he was 18 years old, but he had to fulfill his collegiate obligations first before he got there. As a freshman at Michigan, he played in all 13 of the team's games, recording five tackles for loss and half a sack. In his second season, he recorded 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. And finally, in his junior year, in 2018, Gary recorded 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, but only plays in nine games as opposed to 13.
Gary has completed his college football duty, and now it's on to the NFL.
Playing in the NFL was never the question with Gary. It's where you play him that now takes the stage for debate. To get into why we're asking that and what the answer might be, let's look at five or so plays from his career.
Play No. 1: Big Boy Burst
Listen, for a 6-foot-5, 280-pound guy, Gary can get off the damn ball. I mean, this dude explodes off the snap when he's ready for it. It looks like he's shot out of a cannon, and it just does not look like that for most players his size.
A little negative here is that Gary's natural explosion off the snap does arch his back, and that forces him to stand straight up instead of staying low with more leverage. But I can live with that, especially given some other details of his pass rushing we'll get into.
I swear Gary did not jump that snap count. I slowed it down and re-watched it a few times and Gary is just the first player out of his stance right when the ball goes through the center's legs.
That snap displayed Gary's crazy bust, and for his size, that's his best attribute. That's unreal. No wonder they thought this guy was one of the best high schoolers ever.
Play No. 2: Big Boy (Lack Of ) Bend
Wait, Trev, isn't this the same clip you showed above giving Gary praise?
Why, yes, it is.
In this clip we get somewhat of a good look at the best and worst of Gary. The best is when he fires off the ball like few I've ever seen at his size. The worst -- or, not "worst" just where he's limited the most -- is in his bend or lack thereof.
Gary is just not naturally flexible in the areas edge players need to be in order to bend around the pocket for speed rushes. He has the explosive athleticism, but Gary rounds out his path to the quarterback naturally because he just doesn't get low enough, his hips seem more stiff there and his ankles don't bend like they do for a lighter edge rusher.
This is what makes Gary such a polarizing prospect. On one hand, he's a freak athlete for his size. On the other, he doesn't have the flexibility to match. He has the speed of a 260-pound edge rusher (good), but the bend of a 285-pound edge rusher (not good). What do you do with that?
This is actually why I think Gary would be best in the NFL at the 3-tech defensive tackle position as opposed to a true edge player. This topic has been brought up, and Gary has said that he wants to be an edge player the most (I don't blame him since edge players make the most money). But even if that is his wish, I don't think thats's where his rare, mismatch talents would be sued used best.
We'll get more into that in a bit.
Play No. 3: Heavy Hands
Before we get to glimpses of how Gary might be better on the interior as opposed to the edge, I had to touch on a trait of his that really stands out to me.
Gary's hands are some of the strongest I've ever seen. Watch as he engages with a 300-pound offensive lineman in the clip above, and how his initial punch completely knocked the guy back and gave all advantage to Gary in the rush. That was with one hand; one punch.
This dude is strong as an ox. I mean, Gary can straight up rag doll some offensive linemen when he gets his hands on them.
Gary loves push-pulls and swim moves because it allows him to use the strength of his hands to whip up on offensive linemen that just can't handle it -- which is most offensive linemen.
And that trait brings us to our case for him as a defensive tackle.
Play No. 4: Why iDL Might Work
Ok let's hash out what Gary does well: Ideal size, incredible burst off the snap, strong hands and his go-to moves include push-pulls and chops.
Now let's think of what might be limiting of Gary: upright when getting out of his stance (loss of leverage the more steps he takes), lack of natural bend and flexibility.
Please give me this guy as a slightly undersized 3-tech player and watch him work.
Gary does go up against guards with some snaps on the interior (or at least not on the outer-most edge position) on occasion, and when he does, he usually fares well.
When you're playing on the interior, you have to be able to take on blockers and not lose your ground. Gary is so freakishly strong that even at 280 pounds, as shown in the clip above, he can take on multiple blockers, even throw them aside, and be a help in run support.
Gary is just too quick and too strong for a lot of the guards he went up against. If he's even one-on-one on the interior, or can shoot a gap quickly, he usually has success on the inside. His favorite pass rush/block disengaging moves also set up nicely for a 3-tech interior defensive lineman.
Play No. 5: Why It Might Not
But even though there are clips of Gary holding up well against the run and at the point of attack as an interior player, his size will have to increase a bit in the NFL, if that were to be his role. I think that even if Gary went up to 290 pounds, his freakish athleticism would still shine as an interior player, especially one that would be allowed to one-gap as a pass rusher.
All-in-all, I can see why Gary gets the Top 10 hype. People can see the flashes, the burst, the strong moves and think this guy might be unstoppable in the NFL. But if you observe the details of his limitations, that's also why others can be much lower on him, especially for the position he's listed as.
For me, if you're drafting Gary in the Top 20, which you could, I would say it would have to be at an interior 3-tech position to truly get the most out out of him. As an interior player, he would be so fast and strong that he would be a mismatch player on a week-to-week basis. As an edge defender, I'm afraid he could have a ton of production one week and go totally missing for weeks after that. Gary as an interior, one-gap lineman would be a consistent force in both the run and pass games each and every week.