The Buffalo Bills have the makings of a solid defense for the upcoming 2019 season. A star-studded secondary of Tre’Davious White, Micah Hyde, and Jordan Poyer return for the Bills, but the defensive line needs work. With veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams officially retired, Buffalo may look to boost its overall quarterback-pressure system. Former Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary could be the fountain of youth the Bills turn to, but his potential for professional success is a massive question mark.
Gary, the former No. 1 recruit in the country, played three seasons for the Wolverines and announced that he would forgo his senior year in Ann Arbor to enter the 2019 NFL Draft. It was clear after the collegiate regular season that Gary was ready to go pro after opting to sit out of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against Florida, in which Michigan was routed 41-15.
The 6’5,” 283-lb defensive end is listed as an early- to mid-first round pick on almost every mock draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had Gary slated to wear a Bills cap with the ninth overall pick in his mock draft 3.0. Gary was listed behind fellow defensive ends Nick Bosa at two to the San Francisco 49ers and Montez Sweat just before at eight to the Detroit Lions.
Statistically, Gary is not the most polished defensive lineman in the draft. In nine games last year, the former Wolverine recorded just 38 tackles and 3.5 sacks. This was a steep decline from his sophomore-year campaign in which he tallied career highs of 61 tackles and six sacks.
Gary’s ever-changing mold is his strongest attribute, which could help him fit into the Bills’ scheme faster than other defensive playmakers in the draft.
“The scheme versatility that he brings is going to make him a very coveted player come late April,” said Mel Kiper Jr. before the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
Rashan Gary, who's 6-4, 277 pounds ran 4.61. Wow.pic.twitter.com/ZOHuD4Ea0u— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) March 3, 2019
The combine proved critical to Gary’s draft stock. The then 277-lb pass rusher ran an official 4.58 40-yard dash. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Gary’s speed has been one of his higher selling points, jumping off the line of scrimmage with surprising quickness for his size. Even when not rushing immediately at the snap, his patience leads to shooting the gap at remarkable speed towards opposing quarterbacks.
Here he is at the bottom of the screen blowing past the right tackle to force a really quick pass.
He has the size. He has the speed. Gary has two favorable traits NFL scouts want to see in edge rushers, but injury rumors could keep him out of the top ten and off some teams’ big boards. CBSSports.com’s Jason La Canfora reported that “some teams have medical red flags” tagged on Gary, not naming any individual teams like the Bills. Gary came off shoulder surgery last year, but it is unknown if that specific injury or an unknown one raised the reported warning signs.
The Bills have recent experience drafting defensive ends with shoulder injuries. 2016 first round pick Shaq Lawson was selected 19th overall out of Clemson, but was out until late October after having shoulder surgery that May. If Buffalo has any reason to hesitate on selecting Gary, this is it.
Personality-wise, Gary appears to be a committed professional already thinking about the long term. The projected early pick is now the founder and CEO of his own sports agency, Rashan Gary Sports. In an interview with the Associated Press, Gary said he wants to change the game and sign athletes across many professional sports, including Major League Baseball.
“The older I got, I understood that football is not forever,” said Gary to the AP. “This is a step to take care of my family in the long run. Starting this agency is a way I can definitely do that in my years on the football field and the years when I’m not on the football field.”
Overall, Gary seems mentally prepared to take on the NFL. Whether or not his game reflects that remains to be seen, in a Bills royal blue jersey or otherwise.