AnalysisFootball changed everything for Ray. He used the sport to stay out of trouble as a kid and now embarks in a career as a professional. Credit his high school coach, Tim Grunhard. Now Ray’s a coveted rush end or outside linebacker, depending on scheme. He’s got speed and strength off the edge to be an elite pass rusher. Ray can also make plays down the line showing his outstanding agility. At times he’s explosive, showing a great get off and closing speed for a big man. Ray only started 13 games at Missouri yet still posted 19 career sacks, 29 pressures and 36 tackles for a loss.
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Headed into the week of April 27th, Missouri outside linebacker Shane Ray was believed by a wide array of NFL Draft analysts and pundits to be a “can't miss” prospect, with many projecting him to be a top-10 selection.
But, on the morning of April 27th at 5:46 am CDT, while driving along Interstate 70 in Cooper County (Mo.), he was pulled over by a state highway patrolman, who detected “the scent of marijuana” in Ray’s vehicle.
Thus, despite being the 2014 SEC Defensive Player of the Year (14.5 sacks, 22.5 tackles for a loss) and an unanimous All-American, his stock began to plummet, having picked an inopportune time to proverbially “step in it”.
Nevertheless, the online NFL rumor mill continued to spit out that the Broncos liked him enough to select him. Surely enough, Denver took him with the No. 23 overall pick, swapping slots with the Detroit Lions, who moved to No. 28 and gained center/guard Manuel Ramirez, as well as Denver’s 2015 fifth-round pick and a fifth-rounder in 2016.
Still, in addressing the media after he was selected, Ray, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound pass rusher, was elated to be a Bronco in statements he made Thursday night. To start things off, he was asked on if he thought that he would drop in the draft and if there were any benefits to admitting his mistake last Monday.
“I'm so grateful and indebted to the Denver Broncos for giving me the opportunity to redeem myself,” he said. “After Monday, it was a tough situation and I really felt that I had of course, hurt myself so much. Coming up here and facing what I did, owning up as a man. I feel like that showed a lot about my character. I haven't been a person who has had a lot of off-the-field issues. This is one that popped up and it's unfortunate that it happened a few days before the draft, but the Broncos still giving me the opportunity. I can't wait to come in and give everything I can to this program.”
Ray, in speaking on his judgment in making a mistake, confirmed, “I can't really go into too many details about what happened. It was a situation where I let somebody really close to me influence me and it ended up costing me. But at the end of the day, I still should have made a smart decision. I put myself in that position and I understand that. I'm ready to move past that in my life. This is a great opportunity for me, and coming to Denver I will not have any off-the-field issues because I'm not a person that has off-the-field issues.”
Ray is obviously confident in himself as he revealed he believes that he is a steal in the draft. And if he turns out to be the second-coming of Von Miller, then the picks John Elway gave up and the player, will be capital well spent.
“Definitely, I find myself as a steal,” Ray said. “All the teams that passed on me were in the Top 10, I feel like they made a huge mistake. And as a Denver Bronco, I plan to show them about the mistake they made. Like I said, I'm grateful to the Denver Broncos for giving me the opportunity and I can't wait to learn from guys like [OLB] Von Miller and [OLB] DeMarcus Ware and just be a force.”
He is also coming off of a foot injury but he expressed confidence in this being another hurdle he can deftly overcome, especially with the help of the Broncos medical and training staff.
“I'm very confident that I'll be ready,” he said. “The issue with the foot is I haven't had time to rehab, trying to prepare for the Combine, trying to prepare for my pro day and even more so doing workouts for teams. It's limited the amount of time that I've had to focus on my recovery from my foot injury. But I understand that when I go to the Broncos, they'll have whatever I need to do to recover, and by the season I'll be ready to go out there and be the same Shane Ray that you saw on Saturdays attacking quarterbacks.”
Because of his mistake, Ray not only had to sell his talents to NFL teams but also his character to ensure that he could be trusted moving forward. In speaking to Broncos Executive Vice President of Football Operations and Genearl Manager John Elway, Ray assured fans that he went through this process.
“I just ensured the Broncos that if they made the decision to give me a chance, I would give everything plus more and show them that they made the best decision in this draft,” Ray said. “With them trading up five picks to get me, that shows that their commitment to me and I owe them more than anything. So like I said, I can't wait to come to Denver. I can't wait to be a sponge and learn from two greats on that defense, to be able to play with somebody like [QB] Peyton Manning and hopefully you know help lead the team to a championship.”
Obviously, in private residences, marijuana is legal in Colorado and Ray has been drafted by a Colorado-based NFL team. When asked about any possible temptation this unique culture offers, Ray denounced the notion.
“No, not at all,” he said. I” haven't failed any drug tests. When I was cited I wasn't under the influence and I don't think that weed is something that controls my life, nor has it controlled my life or been an issue. So I think that's really not a concern at all.”
The questions then took a more propitious tone as he was asked more specifically how he feels about the opportunity of playing with Miller and Ware.
“I can't wait,” he said. “Von Miller's somebody that I've been watching and learning from. He's also somebody I've already had contact with and talked to. I can't wait to come in as a little brother almost and have them be my mentors, learn from them. I'm just so excited.”
Ray then adamantly refuted notions that he is just a pass-rush specialist. Von Miller is an All-Pro, not just because he gets after the quarterback, but also because he sets the edge in the run game and makes tackles for a loss. Ray sees himself in the same mold.
“I think everyone who thinks I'm a one-trick pony should go back and watch some more film,” he said. “I'm more than capable of doing everything that the Broncos require of me, especially in the run game, more so in the pass game. There are things I can improve at. I don't have any issue dropping into coverage. There's no question about that at all. I think I'm more than capable of doing anything that the Broncos ask for me to do, including being the best pass-rusher in this draft.”
Ray then expounded upon his toe injury that he suffered during the Citrus Bowl. It has caused him some grief but again, he’s confident the Broncos medical staff get him healthy and back on the grid-iron.
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“It's a variation of a turf toe injury on the serious side and it just took a lot of time,” he said. “It's going to take some time for me to heal. I haven't had the time but once I get to the Broncos and get the proper treatment and rehab I'll be ready to go.”
Finally, in his closing statements, Ray confirmed he did converse with the Broncos leading up to the draft. The team’s decision to select him wasn’t a complete shocker to the former Mizzou Tiger.
“I spoke to Broncos at the Combine and a few times in between the draft and the Combine,” he said. “I spoke to the Broncos earlier this week, and one of the conversations I had was basically that they were possibly giving me the opportunity. It was just so amazing that they took the chance on me.”
As for me, I think this is the type of risk that teams with serious championship aspirations are willing to take. Thanks to the August 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Broncos are not necessarily in a financial bind, should Ray fail to live up to expectations.
It does bear mentioning that NFL Network's Ian Rapoport confirmed on Twitter Thursday that Ray is already in the NFL's substance abuse program and as such, will be subjected to consistent testing.
However, everyone deserves a second chance and Elway's apparent magnanimity may pay huge dividends if Ray pans out. Several of my Twitter followers, who are not Broncos fans, just draft gurus, said that they believe Denver received the steal of the draft.
Additionally, St. Louis-based FOX Sports Midwest host and sports multimedia journalist Teryn Schaefer told me on that she believes the Broncos got a steal, calling Ray a “stud.” With that said, time will tell but it's apparent that the Broncos are willing to take risks to hoist the Lombardi trophy and as I learned at an early age, fortune favors the bold.
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