Denver Broncos: Shane Ray Career Projection


Shane Ray has as high of a ceiling as is his floor is low. He’s the type of player that must be utilized properly or he could serve as a detriment to his team by simply being on the field.

ALSO ON SPIN ZONE: Where Do Broncos WRs Rank Among NFL’s Best?

Ray was rated as the number 15 overall prospect and number three outside linebacker by well respected NFL draft guru Nolan Nawrocki heading into this year’s draft. The Denver Broncos ended up selecting the Missouri product with the 23rd pick, and while an enticing athlete — Ray possesses some very notable shortcomings.

More from Denver Broncos

To put it simply, Ray is not an every down player in the NFL; and may never be.

A draft rating of 15 overall speaks more to the dearth of talent in this year’s draft class than it does to Ray’s all-around football skills. Nowrocki had no one rated above a 7.20 on a scale of 9, with only two players clearing the seven threshold: Leonard Williams (USC) and Dante Fowler Jr. (Florida) respectively.

While Ray has drawn some comparisons to 11-year veteran DeMarcus Ware; he shouldn’t — at least not yet.

Ware bench-pressed over 420 pounds while preparing for the draft and has always possessed freakish strength and lateral agility for a man his size.

Further, Ware has always used the length of his 34″ arms to his advantage against tackles making it very difficult to lock him up at the line, and resulting in him being serviceable against the run for a player of his style and size.

Ray couldn’t be more polar opposite in these areas.

He possesses a narrow base, small hands and a smallish frame for any pass rusher. In watching film it becomes evident that Ray doesn’t possess the strength to hold the point of attack in the run game — in fact — he gets swallowed up fairly often. Further, he plays with his arms closer to his body, not utilizing their over 33″ length to avoid stronger tackles latching on to him.

While Ray does possess an explosive first step that’s noticeable on tape, he’s more of a straight-line guy who looks awkward and lacks fluidity in transitioning when necessary as Nawrocki aptly pointed out in his “NFL Draft 2015 Preview.”

Thus far in camp all of these things have come into the light as the 6’3 OLB has displayed flashes of brilliance chasing down quarterbacks out of the pocket, but as Kubiak told the Associated Press Wednesday, “it’s been up and down.”

May 27, 2015; Englewood, CO, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker Shane Ray (56) during organized team activities at the Broncos training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Expect more of the same.

Newly minted defensive coordinator — and 45 year coaching veteran — Wade Phillips is one of the most aggressive coordinators the game has ever seen. With Gary Kubiak on the Houston Texans in 2011 Phillips took over the No. 30 rated defensive and quickly flipped it into the second-best in the NFL that same year.

If anyone can devise a way to put Ray in his most advantageous position, it’s Phillips.

In the short-term expect to see Phillips utilize Ray mostly on third downs in schemes that incorporate stunts to avoid Ray getting caught up in hand-fighting and stuck on tackles like he did at times in college and has often thus far in training camp.

In these type of aggressive schemes Ray will be able to get off the line quick and focus on what he does best: terrorizing opposing QBs.

While it will take stunts and schemes to keep Ray on the field consistently in the short-term due to the damage he can inflict on his own team in the run game, he’s not expected to be an every-down player yet, even as a first round selection.

Thus, his focus needs to be on putting in a lot of hard work in the weight room and absorbing as much as he can from players like Ware to improve technique.

Ray will never be as fluid or laterally agile as Ware — but few are — and Ray does possess a uniquely high motor which can make up for some of that.

The worst thing that could happen to Ray is if Von Miller or Ware were to go down due to injury and he was forced into being an every-down player as his confidence has already taken hits in camp.

“I don’t want him to get too down when the days aren’t good,” Kubiak told the AP. “He’s really hard on himself. I’m trying to get him to go on to the next one when it’s a bad play.

It’s “pro football. There are good players. Sometimes you’re going to get blocked; go make the next play,” Kubiak concluded.

If Ray is able to learn technique from likely future Pro Football Hall Of Fame inductee Ware, puts the work in to add much needed bulk to his smallish frame, and is able to maintain his confidence by being implemented properly in the short term; he can project nicely as a 10 year edge rusher who may net 90 sacks.

That said, most realists should expect to see Ray as a three-to-five sack guy this season, and in the long-term; as someone who never quite lives up to his first round status given all of the aforementioned shortcomings.

Will Reeve is a contributing writer to NFL Spin Zone, you can follow him on Twitter @WillReeveJr or connect with him on Facebook here.

Next: A Demaryius Thomas Fantasy Warning

More from NFL Spin Zone