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Packers’ GM Brian Gutekunst was ‘locked in’ on Rashan Gary for months

One thing is clear: the Packers saw Rashan Gary as a priority, not a consolation.

Western Michigan v Michigan Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

When the pick came in at 12, the reaction was largely a sigh and an eyeroll from Green Bay Packers fans. After missing out on defensive tackle Ed Oliver and tight end T.J. Hockenson by a few picks, Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst let the 10-minute clock run down for quite a while before turning in a card with the name “Rashan Gary” on it.

Gary, an edge rusher from Michigan, was hardly what most Packers fans were hoping for, particularly with Brian Burns and Montez Sweat still on the board. Those two players had much more consistent production in terms of sacks and tackles for loss than Gary, who had just 9.5 and 23, respectively, in his collegiate career.

However, Gutekunst and Packers college scout Joe Hueber made it clear that Gary was not a knee-jerk pick that came as a result of the board falling differently than they had hoped. Not only did the Packers rate Gary highly on their draft board — he was in fact one of their highest priorities. “Locked in” is the phrase that Gutekunst used when speaking to the media late Thursday evening, using that to describe him being focused on acquiring Gary since all the way back in February — presumably around the time of the 2019 NFL Combine.

As for the production questions, Gutekunst clearly is not concerned. “Production is just the way you look at it,” he said. “He affected the passer, he affected the game. At times he wrecked it.” That’s a good sign for a player whose primary purpose will be to disrupt the quarterback, at least as a rookie, and the personnel department clearly feels that there are reasons why his impact on games did not appear in the stat sheet.

College scout Jue Hueber may have said it best: “He commanded a lot of attention at Michigan: double-teams, triple-teams, taking on the tight end. Really, you saw it in some of his teammates, they got freed up and they were able to get the production.” The plays that Gary put on tape were far more important than the numbers he put in the box score to the team. “When you watch him, he was all over the place, taking on these blocks and getting a lot of pressure too.”

As a 6-foot-4-plus, 275-pound player, Gary would seem a bit big to be a conventional 3-4 outside linebacker, but Hueber confirmed that’s the position group he will start with when he shows up for work. Still, expect to see him lined up in a number of different places. “He’s a guy because of his size and speed and versatility, that you’d hope you can move him around the front,” Hueber said. “He’s done some stand-up stuff already. He’s a guy who’s had to play multiple positions and move around. Probably needs to learn some of the drop stuff but I think as far as rushing the passer goes, he’ll be ready.”

Perhaps the biggest question about Gary, though, is the health of his shoulder. A labrum injury affected him throughout the 2018 season, but Gutekunst does not expect that to be an issue. “I felt very comfortable long term that issue is going to be resolved,” he told reporters, adding that he does not expect Gary to need surgery. Any such surgery would cost the top pick significant, valuable time in OTAs or training camp, so this indicates that he will be good to go for a full workload leading up to his rookie year.

Ultimately, both Hueber and Gutekunst made it clear that the team viewed Gary as one of the best players in this year’s draft. Hueber said he felt that Gary was a top ten talent, while Gutekunst said he felt “very fortunate that (Gary) fell to 12.”

Although Packers fans may question whether Gary was the right player for the Packers to select on Thursday night. no such questions appear to be present in the team’s personnel decision-makers. And frankly, that’s the way fans should want it to be.