The Denver Broncos Aren't Worried About Shane Ray: Should They Be?
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Shane Ray, Vic Beasley, and Randy Gregory were all touted as top edge player prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft class, but all three of them have been cited for drug-related offenses. The most recent of these, Ray, a defensive end out of Missouri, saw his near top-five lock status drop as a result.
Before we assess anything about character, it's crucial to discuss the player. Some initial credits to Ray: he has violent and active hands, and is continually trying to work new pass-rush moves into his repertoire. He also displays excellent side-to-side movement to rip and tear around offensive tackles, and can even drop into coverage if need be. The good folks at MockDraftable have put together a phenomenal database that collects players' NFL Combine performances and plots them out on a spider-graph to show visually how well they did in each drill. By taking historical percentiles, we can see how well each player's skills measure up among the many years of Combine data we have. Shane Ray played defensive end for the Missouri Tigers in college; how does he look on a spider-graph at this position?
As you can clearly see, Ray's best numbers compared to other historical defensive ends are a 44th percentile rank in the vertical jump, a 78th percentile rank in the broad jump and an 89th percentile rank in the forty-yard dash. Every other measurable for him, including and especially the ones on size, ranks below the 35th percentile. So, what can we make of this? Ray seems to be somewhat explosive, which helps to confirm the great first step we see on his game tape, but when engaged, he displays no exceptional raw power and his lateral agility that we see in games doesn't show up on the measurables chart. Do bear in mind that he was coming off of a toe injury before his Pro Day, so these numbers may not be the could be, but some slight improvements will not take a player from the 3rd percentile to even the 60th.
Some teams have scouted him as a 3-4 outside linebacker, citing his smallish size. This would be a way to get his pass-rushing ability on the field despite not fitting the mold of a true 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, and make the most of his great speed and coverage skills. How does he stack up there?
Sadly, Ray still appears stiff and inflexible as an outside linebacker. All of his drill scores actually drop in this group, and his 3-cone and 20-yard shuttle scores become nearly negligible, even though his size makes a better impact. Interestingly, Ray has a nearly-identical physical profile -- and, to my eye, potential outlook -- as his former Missouri teammate, Michael Sam. Ray's profile is that of a classic tweener, but in this case, he's not agile enough for either edge player role. Combined with character concerns, I don't know how comfortable I'd feel with Ray in the first round anyway, so if he falls, that might be the best place to go.
How Does He Fit with Denver?
After his citation on Monday morning, Ray was highly expected to fall out of the first round of the draft, but one team in particular saw an opportunity and took a leap. The Denver Broncos stopped his plummet at 23rd overall on Thursday night by making the biggest trade of the night. This deal saw Denver send the Detroit Lions their first-round pick (28th overall), their 2015 fifth-round pick (143rd overall), a 2016 fifth-round pick, and interior offensive lineman Manny Ramirez for the 23rd pick in the draft.
They must like this kid a lot.
The Broncos are a good landing spot for an outside rusher, even though their defensive front is stocked up at the moment -- they ranked 11th on defense last year according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, and 10th against the run. Bear in mind that current weakside outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is 33 years old right now, and his contract gets pretty excessive in 2016 -- its final year. We could see Ray sit one season and learn behind one of our generation's best pass-rushers, then be let loose by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips the following season. Wade's more patient style of 3-4 play might not be the perfect fit for Ray's high-octane stunting and twisting, but it will certainly teach him another facet of the game and expand his repertoire.
The pick makes sense based on fit, but do you really want to give up a king's ransom for a player with such big question marks in his profile?