Your resident Pro Football Focus junkie is back in action post-NFL Draft. I love looking into their stats when it comes to Denver Broncos players. In my view, measuring and analyzing performance is a key element to understanding what happens on the football field, but it's by no means the only tool you should use to form an opinion - especially on guys that have yet to play a down in the NFL.
For guys like Shane Ray, they also have to overcome getting busted for possession of marijuana, so there will likely be a stigma surrounding him suggesting that he could screw up at any moment will only add to peoples scrutiny of his interviews, practice effort and personal life. His draft stock plummeted from a potential Top 10 to John Elway taking a chance and trading up to get him at No. 23. Pro Football Focus didn't think highly of the trade, but had some nice things to say about Ray the player:
Denver have said goodbye to Manny Ramirez as well as a fifth in 2015 and 2016 (along with their first round pick) so they can move up from 28th overall. But for who? Well it’s the explosive and incredibly productive Ray who didn’t do himself any favors with some questionable off the field behavior this week. He figures to be the long term replacement to DeMarcus Ware but will be ready for any playing time he gets this year. He’s got an incredibly quick first step, and any tackles slow out of their stance will simply have to watch Ray breeze past him. He had the third highest pass rushing grade of all edge rushers and will likely start life as a rotational but chiefly situational edge rusher. For the Lions they grab themselves some extra time, some extra picks, and a versatile interior lineman who is especially useful at center.
Shane Ray has the kind of explosive first step that Von Miller would be proud of, which makes the pairing of those two players incredibly interesting in Wade Phillips' style of 3-4 defense. He finished 2014 with 65 tackles, 22.5 tackles for a loss, 14.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles that would earn him SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was also a stud on third downs as PFF noted in their signature stat on Ray before the draft:
Off-field concerns have started to overshadow Ray in the days running up to the draft, but on the field his production is absolutely unquestionable. As revealed on our NBC Draft Show earlier this week Ray was the most productive pass rusher in this draft class and his explosive first step is right there with Vic Beasley’s. Ray’s explosion was so great this season at Missouri that the oft-quoted term of a pass rusher’s ability to "bend the edge" and "turn the corner" to the quarterback was moot. So often this season Ray was so much quicker off the snap than his opposing tackle was that he was almost able to just take a straight line to the quarterback.
Aside from the off-field concerns Ray does however have some concerns over his ability to change direction which was raised by his time in the three-cone drill at his pro day but was evident on tape both as a pass rusher but also changing direction to get to outside runs. However Ray’s explosion and work rate are key points on his side to see him turn into a quality NFL player. His desire to succeed and help the team was perhaps shown no better than his rushes at 3-tech against South Carolina, stepping into a position that doesn’t necessarily suit him but putting the work in to help the team and be productive nevertheless.
Signature Stat: Ray dominated in third and extra-long situations; on 51 pass rushes Ray racked up 12 pressures (8 Hu, 4 Sk).
Meanwhile, SB Nation's Stephen White believes that Shane Ray is too much of a "tweener" and if he can't get his weight up above 265 then he won't last long in the NFL. Even if he does, White believes Ray will be good for about six or seven sacks a year. Not exactly high praise from a former NFL player.
Either way, I'm not ready to pass judgement before the guy has played a single down in the NFL. Sometimes dominating in college does translate to dominating in the NFL, just ask most Hall of Fame players. Plus we all know how bad it was when Von Miller tried to put on weight. Sometimes being smaller and faster is more important than being big and slow, especially when NFL quarterbacks get the ball out within a few seconds of snapping the ball.
What say you Broncos Country?