Kiper: Ex-Michigan standout Rashan Gary must be 'freak' to warrant high pick in NFL Draft

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary is projected by ESPN's Mel Kiper to go No. 4 overall to the Raiders in his latest mock draft.

Former Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary last week told reporters he’s the best player in the upcoming NFL Draft.

To fulfill that promise, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper said Gary will have to test out as the “freak” athlete NFL observers believe he is during the NFL Combine that begins next week. Kiper, who appeared Tuesday on an ESPN conference call, projects Gary as the No. 4 pick in the draft to the Raiders. Former Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa is the No. 1 selection on Kiper’s “Big Board."

Kiper also highlighted several other Wolverines, saying linebacker Devin Bush could be a mid- to late-first round selection, defensive end Chase Winovich looks like a second-round pick and running back Karan Higdon a fifth- or sixth-round selection.

“I feel like I’m the best player in the draft, defensively and offensively,” Gary said last week to reporters attending media day at the Michael Johnson Performance Center. “I’m the best player in the draft. I’m a blue-collar worker. Every day, head down, learn the ways of the team, be the best now and be the best for that team and be the best for that state and bring back a Super Bowl wherever I go.”

There have been concerns with Gary’s consistency, who arrived at Michigan as the top high school player in the country and left with only 10 career sacks. In nine games last season — he missed three with a shoulder injury and chose not to play in the Peach Bowl — Gary had 44 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

Kiper said the key will be matching Gary with the right NFL team and scheme. He said the 10 sacks “is a concern.” But the 6-foot-5, 281-pound Gary has plenty of intangibles.

“You’d like to see more domination plays,” Kiper said Tuesday. “But when you look at the physical and athletic ability, he’s got to test out as the freak we know he can be and have numbers that are off the chart to maintain that position, which I think he will.

“He’s one of those guys you expect him to be much more productive from a sack standpoint once he’s in the NFL than what he was at Michigan, which is something you don’t necessarily always want to have to say. You would rather already have that production from a sack standpoint, but once he’s in the NFL, if he tests great, any defensive line coach would say, ‘Hey, give me that guy, I can make him a guy who will have big sack numbers.”

In a previous mock draft, Kiper had Gary going ninth in the draft. Gary has climbed in large part because scouts and analysts are learning more about the type of player he can be.

“In terms of Gary, it’s what you’re hearing at different times as people get more dialed in to players, specifically underclassmen that you get more definitive commentary,” Kiper said. “You didn’t know if the fact he only had (10) sacks would hurt a little bit. I don’t think it will, ultimately. I still think he’s going to go very high based on his talent, and he’s flashed that kind of ability.”

Bush was the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year last season, and has been widely praised for his speed and athleticism. On the latest mock draft, Kiper has Bush at No. 30 to the Packers.

“Devin Bush is the most interesting because he fits today’s NFL. He flies to the football,” Kiper said. “It’s not out of the question he could go mid-first round (pick). When you look at where he could ultimately end up, probably be between, if I had to project it right now, somewhere look at 20 to Pittsburgh down to 30 to Green Bay.”

Winovich opted to return for his fifth year at Michigan and certainly improved his stock. He was voted the team’s MVP last season.

“Chase Winovich, second-round grade right now,” Kiper said. “Maybe he gets into the third round, but I’d say more second round for him. Had a great year getting after the quarterback.”

Twitter: @chengelis