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Why Shane Ray is the Broncos’ breakout player this season

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Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White breaks down the Broncos next great defensive lineman.

Oakland Raiders v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Broncos outside linebacker Shane Ray is a guy I broke down when he was coming out of college at Missouri. After probable future hall of famer DeMarcus Ware retired this offseason, it was a foregone conclusion that Ray would step right in and take over for him.

Ray has done well in a backup role the last two seasons. He was a little raw as a linebacker coming out of college where he played with his hand in the dirt most of the time, but he has adjusted well in his short time in the league.

He was mostly a speed rusher at Missouri, but added a little bit of power to his game now as a Bronco.

Ray has benefited greatly from being around premiere edge rushers like Ware and Von Miller, incorporating parts of their game into his. Now, it’s time for him to blaze his own trail. I think he will be more than up to the task.

At first, he was a guy who could make plays just with his athleticism, but his technique has come a long way. Even on the occasions where he has to drop back in coverage, Ray looks much smoother now than he did initially.

He injured his wrist this preseason which means he is going to miss some time early on in the season. When he does start playing again, he is likely going to have to have it casted up. Having worn a cast on my wrist several times in the NFL, I can tell you that as long as he has a good tolerance for pain, that shouldn't slow him down all that much.

I expect him to step right back in as a starter whenever he does get cleared to return. With those fresh legs that won't have gone through training camp I think he will be running by offensive tackles like it’s nothing right off the bat.

He is also likely to benefit from teams showing so much attention to Miller, a legit game wrecker who has to be accounted for every play. The more double teams Miller gets, the more times Ray should be singled up. I expect Ray to make the most of those opportunities.

Let me whisper this next part.

Ray is probably going to be an upgrade over Ware soon, because Ware stayed banged up for so much of the last couple seasons.

I'm just saying!

Double-digit sacks may not come this season just because of the wrist injury, but I won't be surprised if it does happen if he performs the way I think he will. Ray's first two seasons in the league prepared him to take over now. That's why he's my choice to be the Broncos' breakout player of 2017.