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A Pass Rushing Need Opposite Rashan Gary

Finding a young outside linebacker opposite Rashan Gary will be at the top of the list of priorities in the Draft for the Packers.
Rashan Gary

The Green Bay Packers have several needs to fill through the NFL Draft. As we already looked at, the tight end position will be one need. The Green Bay Packers offense struggled in 2022 and will look to add several pieces. But even with the Green Bay Packers defense being littered with former first-round picks, it too needs some help. One of those spots will be an edge pass rusher. Finding a young outside linebacker opposite Rashan Gary will be at the top of the list.

Addressing the Green Bay Packers Pass Rushing Need Opposite Rashan Gary

Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst has had his struggles when it comes to drafting players. But it appears he struck gold when he selected Rashan Gary with the 12th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Everyone knew that Rashan Gary was an explosive athlete who had the potential to be an elite NFL pass rusher leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft. But on the flip side, Gary never matched his potential while at the University of Michigan. Because of that, it was a risk to take Gary so high in the first round. A risk that looks like it is going to pay off for Gutekunst and the Packers for years to come.

While at Michigan, Gary was primarily a hand-in-the-dirt interior defensive lineman. He had the size, and obviously the athletic prowess, to play inside. But it turns out, it wasn’t his best position. The Packers shifted him to the outside, making him a pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker, and he has excelled since the move.

Playing Up to His Potential

In his four seasons, Gary has chalked up 22 1/2 sacks. What makes that number even more impressive, is that in his first two seasons, he was primarily a backup to starting outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. Once Za’Darius Smith departed, Gary stepped in as a starter. That season, 2021, he posted a career-high nine and a half sacks.

There is no doubt that Gary would have topped that number last season if not for suffering a season-ending knee injury. He had six sacks at the time of his injury. Gary is expected to miss a good chunk of the 2023 season. But when he does return, he is still expected to be the Packers best pass rusher.

Even with Rashan Gary returning, the Packers still will be in search of a pass rusher to play opposite of him. A young pass rusher who can team up with Gary for seasons to come.

Getting By Until Rashan Gary Returns and Help Arrives

Until Rashan Gary returns, and a possible high draft choice is ready to go, Preston Smith will be expected to provide the bulk of the Packers pass rush. Smith is locked up through next season and the Packers have the option to have him for longer. But with Smith being 31 years of age and carrying a high salary cap number, this is expected to be his last season as a Packer.

Smith posted eight and a half sacks in 2022. With the loss of Gary, it was Smith who picked up the slack and provided the bulk of the pass rush for Joe Barry’s defense. He will need to do the same next season. With Gary recovering from his knee injury, Smith will need to carry the pass rush once again. If the Packers do grab an edge pass rusher high in the NFL Draft, Smith’s presence should allow that young player to see more one on ones opposite of him.

With Gary out,  it allowed 2022 fifth-round selection Kingsley Enagbare to see more playing time. He played in 14 games and registered three sacks. By the end of the season, Enagbare was a key player in the Packers outside linebackers rotation. Enagbare might never turn out to be a starter, but he does have the skill to be a key backup.

Smith, Enagbare, and the possible high draft choice will need to provide the pass rush until Gary returns. Justin Hollins, who saw playing time last season, will be a free agent this off-season. Former seventh-round selection Jonathan Garvin has been a disappointment and will have a hard time making the 2023 roster.

Options in the NFL Draft

The Packers hold the 15th overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Even with top edge pass rusher prospects Will Anderson, Myles Murphy, and Tyree Wilson expected to be off the board, the Packers will still have a good group to select from.

One player gaining some steam is University of Iowa pass rusher, Lukas Van Ness. Van Ness posted six and a half sacks for the Hawkeyes last season. He did this while at times not even starting for the Hawkeyes. He is big, 6’5″ 269 pounds, and has the ability to line up inside or outside. Many have pegged him for the Packers because of Gutekunst’s history of drafting players with high ceilings. But even with that, Van Ness doesn’t seem like a good fit for what the Packers want in an outside linebacker. The way Van Ness plays, it seems like he would be better off in a 4-3 defense.

A player that seems like he would be a perfect fit in the Packers 3-4 defense is Notre Dame’s, Isaiah Foskey. In 2021, he posted 11 sacks and did the same in 2022 for the Fighting Irish. He lined up at both defensive end and outside linebacker in college. If the Packers are going to be interested, he is going to need to perform well at the NFL Scouting Combine. Gutekunst and his scouting staff always look at the RAS numbers. That is why it is important for him to put up the best numbers he can at the combine.

While we firmly believe that the Packers should use their first-round pick on an edge pass rusher, there are some solid prospects available in the second or third round. One of those players is Andre Carter II out of Army. In 2021, Carter posted 15 1/2 sacks, even with facing double and triple teams. His numbers dropped in 2022, three sacks, but still possesses a lot of potential. He is raw and will need to get into the weight room. But if he gets with the right organization, he could turn out to be a hidden gem.


Main Photo:  Sarah Kloepping – USA TODAY NETWORK


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