The Chicago Bears need pass rushers. With injuries clouding the future of Willie Young and Lamarr Houston, and age catching up to Jared Allen, the team will head into this offseason in search of players who can pressure the quarterback off the edge.
If new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio installs a 3-4 defense, which most believe he will, the need for competent outside linebackers jumps to the top of the list of offseason priorities.
Shea McClellin and Christian Jones could fill those roles, yet both carry serious risk. If Bears brass wants to truly upgrade the defense, it will be necessary to invest an early-round pick on an OLB in this year’s draft.
OLB Shane Ray, Missouri (6-3, 245)
Career Highlights: One-year starter for Missouri; led SEC his senior season in sacks (14.5) and tackles for loss (22.5).
-Extremely fast burst off the ball. Stays low out of his snap and drives quickly up-field with his first step. -Turns corner quickly. Offensive tackles struggle to regroup once Ray has hit the edge. -Looks to rip ball awy when he gets to the quarterback. -Anticipates snap count well. -Violent, active hands. Quick feet. -Uses both inside and outside rush, although the dip and turn is his specialty. -Good speed. Can chase down plays from the backside. -Gets hands up in passing lanes when he’s unable to penetrate. -Occasionally used as a 3-technique defensive tackle on passing downs.
-Lacks discipline against the run. Guesses too much and shoots improper gaps. -Once locked on, he cannot consistently shed blocks. Struggles at times to disengage. Too easily knocked off balance when he’s slow to react. -Can be leveraged out of the hole. -Used only sparingly in coverage.
In essence, Ray is a speed rusher. His bread-and-butter plays come when he anticipates the snap and he reaches the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. Once he hits the corner, he’s nearly impossible to stop.
Ray closes very fast in the backfield and typically punishes the quarterback on sacks. He’s also cognizant of the ball and is always looking for the strip.
His burst off the snap is top-tier and he’s at his best when he can pin his ears back on passing downs. Ray is in good condition and appears to get better as games wear on. He’s a grinder off the edge.
He sometimes gives up on a pass rushes too early, particularly when the opposing lineman gets both mitts on him. Yet Ray is very good at reading the quarterback’s eyes and getting his hands up in passing lanes. He finds a way to have an impact even when he’s not in the backfield.
Defending the run is not his strongest point but Ray is serviceable and has room to improve. He struggles to anticipate pulls and traps, and is too often turned away from the play. It’s clear on film he’s most attentive on passing downs.
Then there is the South Carolina game, where Ray looks like an entirely different player. In that contest, he split time at defensive tackle, where his quickness and aggressiveness made him a nightmare for the Gamecocks offensive line.
That game truly shows Ray’s potential as a penetrating rusher from multiple spots on the field.
Ray in Chicago?
Ray is an intriguing player, as he can take over a game when he’s determined to do so. Yet he stays in the shadows for longs chunks of almost every contest, which is concerning.
Playing at his highest level, Ray has the potential to be a double-digit sack producer and Pro Bowler in the NFL. He played mainly defensive end in a 4-3 while at Missouri yet he’s undersized for that role in the NFL. He’s best suited for OLB in a 3-4, which is just what the Bears need.
Ray doesn’t have much experience in coverage and isn’t consistently stout against the run. He’ll need to improve in those areas and he could stand to add some strength.
As a highly disruptive edge rusher, one who can rush from multiple positions, Ray would bring a lot of value to the Bears. With the seventh overall pick, it’s tough to argue against Ray, who would be a Day 1 starter in the Windy City.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fifth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter.