NFL.com analyst and former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah takes a "first look" at some of college football's top players for 2018. This is the seventh in a series of scouting reports that will run throughout the offseason. Click through the tabs below to see all of them.
Michigan is coming off a very disappointing 2017 season that saw the Wolverines go 8-5, but I expect them to make a big leap in the fall. The addition of a quality quarterback (Shea Patterson) is huge, but this team is built around a very talented defense. The face of the defense is rising junior defensive end Rashan Gary. He arrived in Ann Arbor as the jewel of Jim Harbaugh's 2016 recruiting class and flashed star potential in 2017. I recently studied three of his games and here is my First Look report:
Rashan Gary, junior defensive tackle, Michigan
Height, weight: 6-foot-5, 281 pounds (school measurements).
2017 statistics: 66 tackles, 12 for loss, 6 sacks, 1 forced fumble.
Game tape watched: Maryland (Nov. 11, 2017), Ohio State (Nov. 25, 2017), South Carolina (Jan. 1, 2018).
What I liked: Gary has a unique blend of size, speed and strength. He's built like a defensive tackle and runs like a linebacker. As a pass rusher, he explodes out of a four-point stance and can easily convert speed to power off the edge. He uses his length to lock out offensive tackles with his inside arm before crossing their faces and winning inside. He also has flashed the ability to bend and wrap the edge, which is very unsusual for a 280-plus pound defensive end.
Against the run, he is at his best in chase mode. He made several tackles on the perimeter in the games I studied. He eats up ground in a hurry and his motor is outstanding. He has plenty of strength and power to stack single blocks and set the edge. His versatility is a huge asset. He can line up at any position on the defensive line and, believe it or not, he's athletic enough to stand up on the edge if needed.
Where he needs to improve: As a pass rusher, he needs to develop a deeper repertoire. He has a lot of success with that long arm move, but I'd like to see him add some hand moves to his arsenal. He can also improve as a finisher. He had several close encounters that should've resulted in sacks, but he couldn't quite seal the deal.
As a run defender, he needs to improve his block awareness. He was pinned inside too often by edge blockers because he's late to read/react. He also gets caught too far upfield on occasion. He had excellent production last season, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. That is scary for opposing offenses.
Biggest takeaway: Gary is a special player and he's not remotely close to tapping into his full potential. He fits in every defensive system and has the tools to dominate on all three downs. I love his effort and believe he could emerge as a top-three defensive player in the country. His presence will create plenty of one-on-one opportunities for the rest of the Michigan defensive line. With a cornerstone like Gary, this could end up being the No. 1 defense in college football this fall.
He reminds me of: Cam Jordan. I remember scouting Jordan at Cal and I was amazed when, after practice, he conditioned with the skill players. He didn't look out of place running sprints next to running backs and defensive backs despite the fact he was 70-80 pounds heavier. I think Gary is very similar in that regard. He is extremely athletic and explosive for a man that size, and both guys play with outstanding effort. Jordan has emerged as one of the premier edge defenders in the NFL, and Gary could eventually develop into a similar star at the next level.
I can't wait to see him play: Notre Dame on Sept. 1. This is one of the premier matchups during the first week of the college football season. Notre Dame lost a pair of top-10 draft picks on their offensive line in Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey (as well as their position coach), but the Fighting Irish should still be very good up front. The team that wins the battle in the trenches will likely win this game. Gary will have the opportunity to make a big statement on this stage, and I expect him to put on a show.