Welcome to the fifth installment in the Green Bay Packers Key 2020 Matchups series. This edition pairs two 2019 1st round picks against one and other. Week 13 brings on December football and the Packers will welcome the Philadelphia Eagles to Lambeau Field for a late-season duel. With playoff seeding likely on the line for both squads, Rashan Gary will be looking to add to the pass rush to stop the Philly attack. Standing in his way with be the young tackle of the Eagles, Andre Dillard. Pass-rush and pass-protection are incredibly important to NFL team success. The Gary vs Dillard matchup will certainly be among the most intriguing along that front.
Last year, the Packers doubled down in free agency and added two pass rushers in the Smith brothers. Afterward, Green Bay fans were taken off guard when the 12th pick of the draft came around and they added another in Rashan Gary. On paper, Gary is everything a defensive coordinator would want in a DE/OLB. The specimen Gary stands at 6’5″ and 280 lbs. Not only does he look the part, but he is also a twitched up athlete with great speed, explosiveness and power. His college numbers don’t jump off the page and are underwhelming, but on the hoof, the upside is glaring.
Gary’s game is power, power, and more power. He is strong and uses his muscle to win his one on one battles. In college, he was graded as a plus run defender. Gary would stand up his opponent, plugging the hole and either forcing the running back somewhere else or making the play. His pass rush wasn’t bad either. Though he didn’t rack up the sacks at Michigan, he did get pressures as a defensive end. Again, he used the power game to his success. He could drive would be blockers back into the pocket to pressure the passer. In limited snaps during his rookie year, Gary showed a lot of the same. He is strong, though NFL lineman are not the same as the college athletes. Gary racked up 3 sacks and shown he can hold the edge well against the run.
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While Gary flashed his tremendous talent and upside at times, he still is a work in progress. If Gary wants to be a solid starter that can get after the QB, he needs to develop his pass rush moves and skill set. He is not going to win on a regular basis with a bull rush only. Gary needs to learn counter moves and trust his gifted abilities. Gary has the tools he just needs to sharpen them. Improved awareness would certainly help his case. He needs to understand what the lineman are doing and make it second nature on how to attack. Reports are that Gary has been grinding this offseason and working like he never has before. If he can unleash his upside the Packers will be loaded with pass rushers for the next couple seasons.
Like Gary, Andre Dillard was also a 1st round pick in 2019. With the future, Hall of Famer Jason Peters entering a contract year during his age 37 season, the Eagles needed his successor. (Peters has been brought back but likely to play guard for the injured Brandon Brooks). Enter Washington State alum, Andre Dillard. Coming in with nice size (6’5″ 315lbs) Dillard impressed at the combine with also really good speed and athleticism for a man his size. He ran a sub-5-second 40-yard dash, the second-best 3-cone (7.44) at his position, and had the best broad jump at 118 inches. Dillard was touted coming in as one of the best technicians of the tackle prospects. In college, he was excellent in pass-protection and had the most pass sets of all the prospects in their careers. He is tailor-made to play LT for a long time.
With all the nice traits and great pass pro, Dillard’s knock was that he needed to get stronger. He showed this was true in 2019. In 4 starts and right around 330 snaps played, Dillard struggled mightily. He gave up 4 sacks, 4 hits, and an alarming 17 pressures. With a season behind an all-world tackle under his belt and a chance to get stronger during this offseason program, Dillard should show nice growth. Still, he has big shoes to fill and a long way to go to be trusted on the blindside for the Eagles.
Gary vs Dillard – The Matchup
With Dillard penciled in as the starting left tackle and Gary moving up the depth chart to #3 edge rusher, these two players will dance often. The Packers will be moving Za’Darius Smith around more this season so this will also add to Gary’s workload. This will be an interesting battle of second-year players with lofty expectations. Both teams are expected to be in the playoff hunt and at the top of their divisions. In order to live up to these expectations, these young guys need to prove their worth.
Gary Wins if:
He can hone and trust his natural talents. Gary has the power and speed to punch Dillard and get him off balance. He can use his bull rush to walk Dillard right into Carson Wentz‘s lap. Now, if Gary takes that sophomore leap he could really be a menace for Dillard. Teams know Gary has the power. However, if Gary can add to his pass rush techniques, he can keep Dillard off-balance and guessing all game long. Gary’s biggest hurdle is trusting his instincts. That will allow him to play fast and beat Dillard off the jump. Gary doesn’t necessarily need to get multiple sacks to win the day. Pressuring Wentz and collapsing the pocket in a hurry can open the door for teammates to make plays.
The best advantage for Gary is he won’t be on the field all game long and him being the fresher player. With the Smith brothers in front of him, Gary can go all out in his snaps. If the Packers can win on early downs, that will allow Gary and company to pin their ears back on 3rd-and-long. Also with Gary’s solid run defense, he can set the edge and hold his ground forcing the running backs inside and keeping the linebackers clean. This doesn’t show up in the stat book but plays a vital role in keeping the ground game in check.
Dillard Wins if:
He added some strength and power to his already athletically gifted frame and can bounce back from a rough 2019. A bigger stronger Dillard means an offensive tackle that can anchor better against the bull rush of Gary. This also can hinge on confidence. If Dillard has a strong year leading into his contest he can use and build off that to stall Gary. He should be able to set and hold his own in pass protection. However, in the run game, he needs to beat Gary off the snap and be able to drive the solid run defender backwards.
Who has the Edge?
Both of these high draft picks should see a big 2nd-year jump but I feel Rashan Gary has a big edge in this one. First, his teammate Za’Darius Smith will be teeing off on Andre Dillard early and often. If Smith can work over the young Eagle, this could help Gary when he lines up against him. If that mental abuse isn’t enough, Gary should be the fresher player as the game goes on. Being the third pass rusher, he isn’t going to be on the field all day. Dillard on the other hand isn’t getting any breaks. The Packers pass rushers are hard to handle for any tackle especially a young player. Gary run defense might force Philly away from that side, but if he can generate some pressures on top of that, the Packers should be in the driver’s seat.
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– Jesse Hall is a writer for Full Press Coverage Packers. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @hall_jhall1212 Follow @FPCoverage and Facebook. – Kyle Senra is the managing editor for Full Press Coverage Packers. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @SenraSays Follow @FPC_Packers and Facebook.