Rashan Gary is special. How much better can he get?
Rashan Gary has played as well as anyone on the Packers so far in 2022. If he builds on the strong start, he'll have a case for Defensive Player of the Year.
If 2021 bore witness to the ascension, 2022 has served as the coronation.
Rashan Gary, the Green Bay Packers' fourth-year defender, has come into his own over the past 18 months. Once considered a reach as the 12th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Gary has since developed into one of football's most precious commodities: a genuine field-tilting pass rusher.
The numbers put Gary in rare company. Through four weeks, he has amassed five sacks, three hurries, and a QB knockdown, according to Pro Football Reference. Only two players -- the San Francisco 49ers' Nick Bosa and the Pittsburgh Steelers' Alex Highsmith -- entered Week 5 with more sacks to their name, and both have played more snaps from scrimmage and received more opportunities to get after the quarterback. From an efficiency standpoint, nobody has rushed the passer better to this point in the season.
But Gary's biggest plays haven't occurred in a vacuum. Whereas some pass rushers pile up statistics in garbage time, the Packers' star outside linebacker has delivered in high-leverage moments.
Gary reinforced that notion this past Sunday with a two-sack performance against the New England Patriots. On the first of those plays, he took down quarterback Brian Hoyer on third down with the offense on the edge of field-goal range, potentially saving three points.
The Patriots had driven in closer to the goal line when Gary recorded his second sack. While the loss of yardage wouldn't have prevented a scoring opportunity, Gary's forced fumble and subsequent recovery did.
For a game decided in overtime, those contributions from Gary represent the difference between a victory and a defeat.
"Get '12' back the ball," Gary said of his play against the Patriots. "We have a quarterback like that, a living Hall of Famer, he's able to do wonderful things for us. Y'all know what he can do with the ball. We also know what he can do with the ball. So, just get '12' back the ball. Make sure they don't score. Keep them out of field-goal range and, if they do score, it's only a field goal. That was our mindset."
The Packers have featured quite a few stud pass rushers in the recent past. For the majority of the previous three seasons, Za'Darius Smith provided 26 sacks between the 2019 and 2020 seasons, earning back-to-back Pro Bowl nods in the process. Future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers had a productive three-year run with the franchise as well, recording 25 sacks and a remarkable eight forced fumbles, two interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns during that stretch.
But while Smith and Peppers delivered in big moments during their respective runs in Green Bay, they didn't do so as frequently as Gary has so far in 2022. More impressive still, Smith and Peppers joined the Packers after previously establishing themselves with other franchises whereas the 24-year-old Gary has only begun to scratch the surface of his potential.
All of which begs the question: How much better can Gary become?