You can bet if the Minnesota Vikings draft anyone that plays on the defensive side of the ball in the first round of Thursday’s draft that fans will be confused and frustrated. But in a deep offensive line draft it’s plausible that the Vikings could select the top player remaining regardless of position. Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary fits the bill as position of need down the road and Vikings-style defensive lineman .
Over his three seasons as a significant part of the Wolverines’ defense, Gary picked up 13 sacks and 62 hurries on 670 pass-rush snaps and ranked seventh in the draft class in run stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus.
In the past, Vikings GM Rich Spielman has talked about trying to find “clones” of successful NFL players. If that’s the case, Gary should be getting a good amount of consideration at TCO Performance Center. Like superstar edge rusher Danielle Hunter, Gary did not have the most impressive sack numbers but pressured the QB often and stuffed the run.
He also put together a monstrous performance at the NFL Combine. Gary ranked in the 97th percentile with a 4.58 40-yard dash, 95th percentile in vertical jump, 87th in the broad jump and did 26 bench press reps. In comparison, Hunter ran a 4.57 40-yard dash and ranked in the 84th percentile in the vertical, 98th in broad and did 25 bench press reps (per Mockdraftable).
Hunter reached his full potential in part because he was able to work with Andre Patterson, who has headed up the development and/or refinement of every Vikings D-line star under Mike Zimmer. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein points to Gary’s need to grow as a pass rusher to maximize his physical tools. Zierlein wrote:
Five-star defensive end prospect coming into Michigan who leaves with those same five-star traits and loads of potential but a lack of development in key areas. Gary is a face-up rusher who seems content to hit tackles with bull-rush attempts rather than working the edges. He’s explosive out of the blocks and in closing to the quarterback, and is just waiting for hand development and additional rush moves. His size, strength and motor could make him a plus run defender in short order. He has elite potential if a defensive coordinator can harness the energy and focus his approach.
The expectation from draft analysts is that he will be selected in the middle of the first round, in part because of the exceptional number of quality defensive line prosepects. NFL.com’s Chad Reuter mocked him at 17th to the New York Giants, one pick before the Vikings.
The question is whether the need at defensive end is pressing enough for the Vikings to spend a first-round pick. For 2019, it might not be. But the Vikings do lack rotational pass rushers outside of Stephen Weatherly, who showed significant signs of progress last season. Gary could rotate in during pass-rush situations as an interior defensive linemen as Brian Robison did after Hunter took over the starting role in 2017.
At 277 pounds, Gary weighs as much as Tom Johnson, who has been the Vikings’ pass rushing specialist at the three-technique defensive tackle spot. Last year’s fourth-round pick Jalyn Holmes, who moved from outside to inside defensive line, weighs 283 pounds and had nearly identical wingspan and bench reps to Gary.
Down the road the Vikings will very likely need another edge rusher. Even if Everson Griffen bounces back to Pro Bowl form in 2019, he will be 32 years old by 2020. Past the age of 30 it’s difficult to project any player’s performance.
Gary might not be the prospect who convinces fans to plan the parade but his combination of size and athleticism puts him in the “best fit” category.