There are a few mocks out there pegging Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary to the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Does that make sense?
A vast majority of mocks for the 2019 NFL Draft have the San Francisco 49ers either grabbing Ohio State EDGE Nick Bosa at No. 2 overall or, if Bosa isn’t available, Kentucky EDGE/SAM linebacker Josh Allen. A few even peg Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, based off him being such a disruptive force up front.
Here’s what Zierlein said about the selection:
"Watching Allen come off the board at No. 1 is a curveball the 49ers will need to be prepared for. Ohio State’s Nick Bosa is a more polished and game-ready edge rusher than Gary, but San Francisco could opt for explosiveness over refinement."
For the most part, Zierlein’s selection of Gary caused more than a few San Francisco fans and pundits to raise eyebrows. Gary isn’t often mentioned in top-10 prospect breakdowns, let alone within the top five.
But rather than dissect whether or not a 49ers selection of Gary at No. 2 overall would be smart, it’s probably more important to break down why the Niners would be interested in the first place.
To understand that, let’s look at what Gary brings to the table.
Rashan Gary’s Strengths
There’s little doubting Gary was highly productive over his three years at Michigan. While not a pure pass-rushing specialist, Gary was excellent at being more of a pass-rush enabler, wreaking havoc up front and allowing fellow Wolverine linemen to get to opponents’ quarterbacks.
These numbers aren’t always reflected in the traditional stats, although they are worth pointing out:
The 6-foot-5, 283-pound prospect has enough strength to burn, for sure. Gary is more than adept at the run, and his sheer size and athletic prowess can create problems from either a 1- or a 3-technique spot along the defensive line.
Yet Gary is more than capable playing all over the defensive line. It’s one of the things Michigan did with him for the vast majority of his collegiate career, and it should be something replicated within the pro ranks.
Those traits were enough for NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah to suggest he’s one of the top three defensive tackles in this year’s draft.
Rashan Gary’s Weaknesses
While versatility is a bonus for Gary, expecting him to be a prolific edge rusher is premature. Those sack numbers primarily came from inside rushes, and Gary lacks the true bend to get around blockers on the outside.
On top of that, Gary’s arsenal of pass-rush moves is pretty limited. In many instances, if his first move is countered, he often seems to be in reaction mode rather than dictating to his blocker what’s going to happen.
Any team placing him at EDGE would likely be following the same path the 49ers took with their top pick in 2017, defensive end Solomon Thomas, who held his own against the run off the edge but wasn’t particularly effective in being an outside pass-rusher.
Thomas’ best pass-rushing abilities came from the interior, which is where Gary would be more effective in this department.
But hoping Gary can improve as an outside rusher could prove to be problematic, so sticking with him inside is probably the best bet, cutting down on his versatility to a degree.
Plus, he suffered a shoulder injury late in 2018, which limited him to just nine games. That’s something to monitor.
None of this is to say Gary will be a bad player. Not at all. Yet tabbing him within the first few picks of the draft seems like quite the reach.
Fit with the 49ers
By most accounts, it’s hard to see it. If the Niners simply admitted drafting Thomas was a mistake and they were ready to move on, there would be some credence to adding Gary. The problem, however, is Thomas is still in developmental mode, as San Francisco wants to still get some sort of return on their high investment from two years ago.
One could make the same argument against selecting Williams here. But Williams is far ahead of Gary in overall potential and immediate impact. The former might easily be an upgrade over Thomas or, possibly, the 49ers’ 2015 first-round selection, defensive tackle Arik Armstead, who is poised to play on his fifth-year option this season.
Gary, however, is a much bigger risk. Optimistically putting him within the top 10 of NFL Draft big boards is one thing. The Niners grabbing him at No. 2 overall seems much more redundant, especially considering he’s not far off Thomas’ mold.
So, if you’re placing bets on which player San Francisco grabs first, you’d probably be smart not to put your money down on it being Gary.
Unless you’re trying to think way out of the box, of course.