Under the Microscope: Shane Ray


The 2015 edge rusher class as a whole is one of the best groups in a long time. This class is rich with both top tier talent and mid-round contributors. Missouri’s Shane Ray is one of many stud rushers in this class and fits into the “top tier” talent category. Even in a minimized role in 2013 (was playing behind Kony Ealy and Michael Sam), Ray’s talent was clear. In  a full time position in 2014, Missouri’s next great pass rushing prospect has blossomed.

At 6’3”, 245 pounds, Ray’s frame is nothing special, but it is solid. At his current weight, he would have to play outside linebacker (his skill-set fits that better anyway), though bulking him up to play defensive end is plausible.

As I just touched on, Ray is more fit to play as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Aside from his weight, Ray is a better fit at outside linebacker because of how well he thrives in space as opposed to as a “phone booth” player.

Ray’s burst off of the line of scrimmage is impressive, but what is more stunning is how fast he continues to move and eat up space after the initial burst. Ray devours space quickly and creates situations in which offensive tackles are not in much of a position to fend him off. Even if they are, Ray’s momentum enables him to run through the arms of many linemen to get around the edge with balance and speed.

Here is a display of all of those traits in unison. Ray explodes off of the snap, then continues to work to the top of the edge arc. He gets there before Florida tackle DJ Humphries can, forcing Humphries to bend and use little more than his arms to hold back Ray. That isn’t enough to stop the Missouri rusher and Ray racks up a sack on Jeff Driskel.

In a different context, here is a second example. Here, Ray is lined up between the right guard and right tackle. At the snap, he fires off, stutter steps to freeze the guard, then pushes off to create space. With that space, Ray has a clear shot at the quarterback and nearly gets to him. Granted, part of the issue is that Ray’s closing speed is nothing of note (not bad, just not special), but nonetheless, the process of this play is positive.

If Ray can not immediately win, he is the type to continue fighting until the play is over. Too many athletes give up once they have been initially stopped, but Ray has the high motor that you like to see from edge rushers. Ray’s favorite counter move is a distanced “stop, rip and jump inside” type of move and he has shown some success with that. When doing this, Ray makes sure to keep himself as far away from the tackle’s frame as he can. At the least, Ray’s relentless demeanor gives him a chance to more easily capitalize on a broken play.

Though, Ray needs to improve the synchronization between his leg drive and his fighting hands. This is something that I touched on when reviewing Randy Gregory. It is a key skill for rushers to learn and develop. In synchronizing a step with a punch, the player can get more force behind his punch, as well as move further into the pocket. This can be relevant both during an initial rush, like when a player is converting speed to power, and when a player is trying to win with countermoves.

This lack of synergy is especially an issue for Ray because his raw power is underwhelming and he has not shown much ability to win head-on with speed to power conversions. Part of this is because of his tendency to get too high off the snap or stay too high when trying to bend.

Overall, his functional strength is a bit of a concern. When forced to play directly in a lineman’s frame, Ray can get outmatched and forced off of his spot, especially in the run game.

On this play, Ray gets easily moved inside, clearing a massive lane for the running back. Ray simply gets overpowered here and has to follow the lineman’s lead.

Functional strength is also an issue for him as a rusher when he is not allowed to have space. Lineman can halt him, stand him up and outmuscle him, forcing him to lose balance and ultimately lose the snap. Ray needs to hit the weight room, as well as get his body to work together more fluidly to maximize his power.

To be fair, the root of the problem may be more related to him believing that he can win in so many other ways that he does not need to be able to win directly. Namely, Ray is a wonderful space rusher, but he can also make himself “skinny” when rushing inside, which is an alternative to taking on linemen head-on. Furthermore, Ray has been utilized time and time again as a “stunt” rusher. He has succeeded in doing so, as he is asked to loop back inside and find the rushing lane. To some extent, the success here can be credited more to Missouri’s defensive coordinator than Ray, but regardless, Ray is executing.

Shane Ray is a rabid, quick player that thrives as a space rusher. He can beat linemen before the play even starts because of his burst, speed and lateral quickness. That said, he is going to need some polishing as a run defender and as a rusher when he does not immediately win.

Ideally, Ray lands with a coordinator that will keep him in space and move him around a lot (maybe he falls to Arizona?). Ray has drawn many comparisons to Von Miller. Stylistically, this is fair, but Miller was a very special prospect and is currently a special NFL player. Ray is not quite that type of talent, but he is a rusher that will be productive when given space. A player of Ray’s caliber is worth a pick in the high-teens to early-twenties.

Next: Under the Microscope: Todd Gurley