We're all well-acquainted with Shane Ray here, so I won't be boring you with facts and statistics that you already know by heart. Instead, I'll try to provide you with a glimpse at Prospect Ray through the eyes of the scouts that are setting their sights on the former SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Come with me / and you'll be / in a world of rampant speculation!
Raw and athletic, Shane Ray is a pass-rusher with a first step so quick that you'll miss it if you blink. Backing up Michael Sam and Kony Ealy in 2013, he was still able to tally an impressive nine tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. This brought about some high expectations heading into the 2014 season, especially after rumors of a 4.44 second 40-yard dash started making the rounds. Ray did not disappoint, amassing a school record 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss while co-anchoring a defensive line that improved upon its very successful 2013 campaign with fellow standout Markus Golden (more on him later). While he may not justify a pick in the top 10, as one well-coifed talking head would've had you believe, he'll almost certainly hear his name called on the first day of the draft.
In the time it took you to read this sentence, Shane has already spun your best offensive tackle around like a turnstile and introduced your valuable quarterback to the turf. Needless to say, he's fast. That isn't the only facet of his game, though. He has great hands, and he makes good use of them when disengaging blockers at the point of attack. This one-two punch allows him to turn the corner on offensive linemen with ease.
He also possesses a grade A, fuel-injected motor. Throughout the entire the 2014 season, you could find Ray making plays 15 to 20 yards away from his initial position at the snap of the ball. His tenacity is further highlighted on the rare occasion that he shifted to the interior of the defensive line, where he held his own against the widest bodies that opposing offenses had to offer. He's a fighter, which isn't something that you normally see from guys this athletically gifted.
Shane's biggest weakness is also the aspect of his game that is the least under his control: his size. It's silly, unfair, and generally overblown. Welcome to the NFL. In all seriousness, there is a legitimate reason why his weight gives some scouts cause for concern. Former NFL defensive end Stephen White does a fantastic job of explaining why in his breakdown of Ray's game:
That wouldn't be a big deal except he's a little light in the ass at 245 pounds to play defensive end full time in a 4-3 system, let alone defensive end in a 3-4. He would get smashed trying to two-gap offensive tackles all day. That kind of pigeonholes him in how teams might see him as a fit for their defense in the first round.
Ray is 6'3 and possesses a long frame. Putting on 20 pounds or so shouldn't be too hard for him to do if he works at it. That would put him at around 265 pounds, heavy enough for a 4-3 defensive end. Unfortunately, that's still pretty damn light for anything along a 3-4 defensive line. Even projecting the extra 20 pounds, you are still stuck with 4-3 defensive end and pure 3-4 rush linebacker as the only good fits for Ray's services full time.
In addition to the lack of large, Shane also doesn't do as well in space as you would like him to as a potential linebacker. Give him a target to hit, and he's a ballistic homing missile; but assign him a coverage zone, and you're just begging the offense to toss a quick screen over his head. He needs to go to a team that will keep him angled towards the quarterback at 45 degrees, not one that will ask him to sit up straight and pay attention.
Then there are the flaws that are harder to quantify, namely Ray's off-the-field issues. He suffered through a toe injury during the final few games of the 2014 season and didn't participate in drills at the Combine because of it. He and his camp have claimed that everything is ship-shape in that department, but it doesn't seem like everyone is picking up what they're putting down.
In addition to that, Ray was also cited Monday for possession of 35 grams or less of marijuana and failing to drive in the right lane of a two-lane highway. The problem here isn't that he was caught with any amount of marijuana. NFL scouts aren't oblivious, no matter how much we make them out to be so. They're aware that a good majority of these prospects are good friends with Mary. What will trouble them is that Shane willingly put himself in this position just days prior to the draft. For some teams, even that won't be an issue, but for others it could be just enough of a flag to pass on Ray if they have an early enough pick.
Despite what former Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominic would have you believe, I don't see Monday's incident causing enough panic to drop Shane from the first round. He's too good at what he does – and what he does is too valuable – for a team in need of a pass-rusher to pass on him. (You see, he can't be passed on. Because he would sack the quarterback before they were able to get the pass off. That's what he does.)
The middle of the first round feels right. There, you have teams like Arizona (to whom a lot of folks seem to be mock-drafting him), San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati; all are teams with defenses that would get the most out of Ray's skill-set.
I do suppose it's possible that I'm wrong and that Shane could slip out of the first round, but I doubt it. Come Thursday, Missouri should have its sixth first-round draft pick since 2009.