The Oakland Raiders have lacked a formidable pass rush for a very, very long time. Even when they had Khalil Mack, they usually finished towards the bottom of the league in quarterback takedowns. They’ve chased pass rushers for years, from last season’s rookies, Maurice Hurst, Arden Key, and P.J. Hall, to the off-season acquisition of Bruce Irvin two years ago.
In 2018, the team finished dead last in sacks with only 13. That’s 17 fewer than the next worst team, the New York Giants, with 30. They haven’t finished inside the top 20 in sacks since 2013 (18th with 38), and they haven’t finished inside the top ten since 2002 (sixth with 43), the year they lost a Super Bowl to Rich Gannon. With the fourth, 24th, and 27th picks in the first round of a draft featuring a very good pass rushing class, the Raiders would be fools not to take at least one stud rusher. However, in my humble opinion, Rashan Gary should not be one of those players.
The Oakland Raiders Should Pass on Rashan Gary
First things first, the kid is gifted. He’s a remarkable athlete, and at 6’5, 280 pounds, Michigan reported that Gary ran a 4.57 40 yard dash. That’s no surprise to anyone that followed the defensive tackle from his high school days, where he was one of the most sought after recruits in the nation.
We’re going to get to his lack of pass rush production in a moment, but it should be noted that it’s not a death sentence by any means. Gary’s former teammate and current Raider, Maurice Hurst, had similar production at Michigan, but is arguably the best player currently in Oakland’s front seven.
Because of Gary’s size and athleticism, his versatility is rivaled only by his potential. If Gary is coached correctly and stays hungry, he can dominate anywhere on the defensive line and become a truly disruptive defensive force for many teams while helping free up the likes of Arden Key and anyone the Raiders may acquire in free agency.
He’s explosive off the line, has unbelievable burst, and is versatile enough to line up just about anywhere on the defensive line.
The word potential gets thrown around a lot with Gary, and that’s because as great of an athlete as he is, he still needs a lot of work. He’s not quite big enough to be a full time defensive tackle, but he doesn’t have a very polished move-set as a pass rusher. He doesn’t have a ton of bend, so there’s questions about whether he can play on the edge, but he lacks the bulk to be a true defensive tackle.
As versatile as Gary is, he doesn’t really excel at any one thing. He’s not a pure pass rusher, but he doesn’t fit the mold of a prototypical inside lineman. He’s not as much of a guy that can play everywhere as much as a prospect that doesn’t fit anywhere. Wherever he goes, coaching is going to be the difference between boom or bust.
The significance of production in college varies position by position. A tailback that doesn’t have astounding collegiate numbers can still dominate in the pros, and just because a quarterback lit up the stat sheet, that doesn’t mean he’s guaranteed to become a franchise player in the NFL. But with pass rushers, it’s a little unnerving when their numbers don’t add up and Gary’s numbers leave a lot to be desired.
The argument could be made that he was frequently being double-teamed by some of the better offensive linemen in college, but for a top ten pick, that’s nothing out of the ordinary. Any coach worth his salt identifies the best player on the other team and plots to take him out of the game.
The elite players dominate in spite of that attention, that’s what makes them elite. If you can’t handle being double-teamed in college, how are you supposed to compete in the NFL? The average opponent only gets better, and it’s not like they’ve forgotten how to double team.
Raider Nation doesn’t want to hear this, but any defender in the front seven that the Raiders take in the top ten of the first round this year will be compared to Khalil Mack. Whether it’s Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams, Clelin Ferrell, Josh Allen, or Gary, the Raider rusher (worst mascot ever), will be compared to the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year.
This means the Raiders really can’t afford to miss with this pick. This logic is true for most first round picks, but when NFL Network does their “Top Ten Trades” list in a few years, they’ll show Khalil Mack’s Chicago Bears highlights and then whoever the Raiders pick to rush opposing passers in this year’s draft.
For me, Rashan Gary just isn’t a reliable enough prospect to carry that weight. He’s a great athlete, but he’s got “boom or bust” written all over him, and a year removed from selecting Kolton Miller over Derwin James, the Raiders can’t afford a bust.
Having Said That…
However, if he inexplicably falls to 24, or the Raiders can trade up into the teens and take him, then he becomes a steal with upside (See: Arden Key). However, it would be a mistake for the Raiders to spend a top five pick on Gary, especially if someone like Quinnen Williams is still on the board. For what it’s worth, the last time the Oakland Raiders took a defensive player from Michigan with the fourth overall pick, it worked out okay.