Here's my thing about University of Missouri defensive end Shane Ray right off the top: I don't think he will be a good fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme if that scheme calls for him to play out in space. He plays very stiff when he has to go laterally, and even though he is fast as hell going straight ahead, if he has to change direction suddenly there's gonna be trouble.
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.
The good news is that until he is ready to start and play every down, you can always use him just as a nickel rusher because he happens to be really fucking good at pass rushing. You can't get 14.5 sacks on the season like Ray did without being a pretty good pass rusher, so this probably isn't news to anybody. Let me say this too, after watching him whup Florida left tackle D.J. Humphries' ass for two sacks, I can attest to the fact that he wasn't just beating up on weak competition, either.
What really pushes Ray up into the elite group in this class is how consistently successful he was as a pass rusher throughout the whole season, not just the four games I watched. He played 14 games in 2014 and had at least half a sack in 11 of them. Not only that, he ... what's that you said? You wanted me to repeat something?
Ok let me back up. Yes, I said the four games I watched.
So, here's the deal. I wanted to watch no less than five games from the 2014 season for each prospect before I did a breakdown. However, the site I normally use doesn't have five games from 2014 on quite a few of the top prospects I wanted to look at this year. I've mentioned before that some of their videos were removed, and that has hampered my efforts big time. I tried to wait to see if more videos on some of these guys would get posted, but I didn't want to wait too long and end up missing out writing up most of the top guys before the draft. Therefore, I am going to relax my five-game policy with the caveat that the breakdowns I do with four or less probably won't be quite as accurate. For instance, sometimes I can see two good games and two average games from a guy and that fifth game is somewhat of a tie breaker either way. I won't get the luxury of that with the rest of these breakdowns.
Ray is the fifth edge rusher that I've chosen to break down this spring. For the purposes of this breakdown I went to Draft Breakdown and watched Ray play against UCF, South Carolina, Florida and Kentucky. Those represented the third, fifth, seventh and ninth games of Missouri's season, respectively.
Anyway, this Shane Ray dude was a monster last season getting after the quarterback from both right defensive end and also from inside at three-technique in one game, Missouri's win over South Carolina. I'm not gonna lie, the stuff I saw him do pass rushing as a defensive tackle in that game both shocked and impressed the hell out of me #AtTheSameDamnTime. He is a smaller guy, but he found a way to hold his own against the run at defensive tackle a few times that game, even if it wasn't always pretty, which gets a thumbs up from me.
People that have never played on the defensive line don't understand how hard it can be to transition from playing outside to inside, especially for smaller guys. It's sooooo much more physical in there and everything happens much quicker. You have to be mentally strong to go in there at all. So to go in there and play with reckless abandon like Ray did isn't all that common.
He isn't going to make his money rushing from a three-technique in the NFL, but it does show me that this is a tough guy who won't back down from a challenge. Being tough is part of the job description for a defensive lineman, and I don't think it gets talked about nearly enough when we evaluate prospects. If you know what to looked for, you can see the guys on film who run to the fight and the ones who run away from it just as clear as day. If you decide to draft an undersized defensive lineman you had better be damn sure he is a fighter. Otherwise, he will surely get overwhelmed by the jump in the level of competition from college to the pros along with the jump in the size and skill of offensive linemen.
While Ray was far from dominant against the run, he showed me enough that I'm comfortable saying he is a fighter. I wouldn't worry much about the level of competition getting to him.
Having said all that I haven't even gotten to what is probably his greatest trait yet, his relentless motor. I usually hate talking about "motors" because I think people hand out gold stars for effort like they're candy nowadays. When I played here in Tampa we had a standard for the kind of effort we put on film. The same can be said for when I played at Tennessee as well. I have an expectation that everybody is going to hustle. I'm usually much more apt to point out poor effort than talk up better-than-average effort. Most of the guys who get accolades really aren't much more than better-than-average effort guys anyway in my opinion.
This guy, however, does indeed stand out from the crowd when it comes to running to the ball. Shane Ray's motor also helped him make a lot more big plays than he would have made just off his athletic ability and technique. All facts.
It has been my experience that sometimes when you talk up a guy's motor some of your audience starts assuming that they aren't highly skilled or much of an athlete. That's because usually that really is the case.
Sorry, not sorry.
For as long as I can remember I've seen less skilled, less athletic players who have had their effort showcased as a way to kind of even things out. In this case, Ray is pretty athletic and highly skilled, so that doesn't apply. For him, the fact that he has a fantastic motor isn't the main course, it's the cherry on top.
Here we have a guy that posted a 4.64 at his pro day after a toe injury in the bowl game. He's a guy who is also one of the best I've seen this year at turning the corner as a pass rusher, probably second only to Vic Beasley, and guy who actually ended up with more sacks than Beasley. Top it off with the fact that he routinely runs all the way down or across the field to make tackles. That's a pretty good formula for success on the next level in my book.
He's still gonna have to gain that weight though. You can't take a guy high in the first round or maybe in the first round at all if you aren't reasonably sure he'll ever get big enough to play full time. You just can't. That's just too high of a cost to pay for a one trick pony, no matter how good that one trick is. For all his effort, skill and athleticism, Ray was pretty average when he had to take on a blocker to make a play against the run. In the NFL he is going to have to be able to do a much better job at beating blockers to make plays because everybody is athletic. Just running around blocks simply won't be good enough in the pros.
An added benefit of getting bigger is that it should allow Ray to do more power rushes. I don't necessarily think Ray is weak (21 reps on the bench press at the Combine), but I didn't see him attempting many power rushes in the games I watched. I don't want to penalize him much for not showing power when his speed rushes were working so well, but if all you have are finesse moves, at some point NFL offensive tackles are gonna catch up to that ... unless you have Derrick Thomas-like speed. Ray is fast and he showed excellent get off on film, but he isn't on that level with his speed rush, and I don't think he ever will be.
But again this all hinges on Ray gaining some weight. I would be a lot more comfortable with him at 245 pounds if I thought he could fit in any defense, but as I said earlier, I just don't trust that. That makes him a late first-round or early second-round pick in my book. I have a feeling that he will be taken much earlier than that, however.
I can't see a team with a need for an edge rusher taking a risk that they could pick up a guy of Ray's caliber in the second round and passing on him, especially if there's a run on pass rushers at the top of the first round. Plenty of teams have a need for what Ray did at an elite level in college, so it's almost a given that he will be over-drafted. The question to me isn't where he starts but where he finishes. If he gets up to 265+ pounds, I expect him to at least be a reliable pass rusher good for six to seven sacks a year. If he can't get his weight up, I don't expect him to last very long at all in the NFL.
Where and when Shane Ray goes on draft day will all be a matter of who is willing to bear that risk for that kind of payoff.