Talking to us about our No. 1 pick Shane Ray is Fullback U, the managing editor for the Mizzou SBNation blog,RockMNation.com. Not only does he have some great info to share below, he's also a diehard Broncos fan. So what more credentials do we really need? (Well, aside from the fact that er spricht auch Deutsch...and that's just cool).
MHR - The Broncos traded up 5 spots to 23 to get Shane Ray as their No. 1 pick. Since Ray's stock fell a little due to a marijuana citation, why would you say the Broncos got a steal out of Ray?
Fullback U - First off, I'm a big Denver Broncos fan who happens to be a huge Mizzou Tigers fan. I have been lucky to watch some quality defensive ends like second-round pick Kony Ealy (Carolina Panthers), SEC Defensive Player of the Year Michael Sam, second-round pick Markus Golden (Arizona Cardinals) and now first-round pick Shane Ray.
As a fan of the Tigers, I wanted Ray to land in a good situation, but I also worried he'd be saddled with too many expectations on him too early. I think falling a bit in the draft might have been a blessing in disguise for him, and it's something he acknowledged afterward.
I think Ray plays best when he's looking to prove something and I think the biggest thing that caused him to drop in the draft were concerns about his toe injury, not his pot citation.
MHR - Ray was considered a Top 10 draft pick by many teams, including the Broncos, but because of that marijuana citation, many teams passed on him. Should Broncos fans believe him when he says this was a one-time thing and will not be a problem (especially in a state where marijuana is legal)? And how do you think the drop in the draft will fuel his play this year?
Fullback U - Absolutely. 100%. Ray didn't test positive at the NFL combine like Randy Gregory, and contrary to some speculation, Mizzou fans never heard anything about him having an issue with marijuana before, something his head coach Gary Pinkel reaffirmed.
He was pulled over for going too fast on a boring stretch of road between his home town of Kansas City and his campus in Columbia. If he's guilty of anything it's of having a lead-foot, a trait that carries over to his playing style on the field.
If you want to see his true speed, check out this game-winning play against Oklahoma State from 2013:
MHR - Ray was the backup to Michael Sam in the 2013 season, and Sam is no longer in the NFL. What explains Ray as the backup and why do you think he can have a long career in the NFL?
Fullback U - The answer has to do with depth. In 2013, Michael Sam used his speed rush to rack up 31 solo tackles, 13.5 sacks and 19 TFLs, 2 FF. Kony Ealy had 30 solo tackles, 9.5 sacks, 14.5 TFLs, 3 FF. Markus Golden had 36 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks, 13 TFLs, 1 FF. Shane Ray had 27 solo tackles, 4.5 sacks, 9 TFLs, 2 FF.
Last year, Ray took over at right defensive end and racked up 47 solo tackles, 14.5 sacks and 22 TFLs, 3 FF. Golden had 35 solo tackles, 10 sacks, 20 TFLs, 3 FF, and the backups combined for 20 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 5 TFLs, 1 FF.
Without the benefit of the talent Michael Sam had alongside or behind him, Ray bested the previous year's numbers and showed a penchant for playing through injury and making timely plays.
Against Florida, he went out with a stinger, then his first play back did this (by the way, that guy Ray blows right past? That's D.J. Humphries, the Florida tackle who was selected one pick after Ray.)
MHR - John Elway and Gary Kubiak both mentioned having Ray rotate in as a starter on the Broncos' 2015-16 defense, which is a tall order when playing with fellow edge rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware.
- Do you see him being able to make the rotational starter job this year and what will be his strengths at the position?
- What do you think will be Ray's opportunity on the defense after his rookie season?
Fullback U: Earlier I mentioned Ray playing in a rotational while at Mizzou, and I think stepping into a similar situation in Denver is the best thing for Shane as a rookie. Talking heads often like to say the less thinking a rookie has to do the better, if they can just go out and rush the passer the transition will be easier for them.
Once Ray gets healthy, the ideal scenario has him learning the linebacking skills DeMarcus Ware has while aiming to replace Von Miller since their skill sets are comparable. A situational pass-rusher as a rookie who can allow Kubiak to move Ware around or even get him rest would be the natural starting point for Ray's career.
Watching Ray develop, I often thought he most reminded me of Von Miller coming out of college. Pairing the two of them could prove to create a fearsome duo but the cynical Broncos fan in me thinks this was a move by the organization to ensure insure themselves against Von Miller's future with the team. Their playing styles are just so very similar I could see this being used as leverage in negotiating Miller's upcoming contract.
MHR - In our scouting report we listed the following as strengths -
- Explodes off the line
- Has fast violent hands and knows how to use them
- Has good flexibility in his hips and shoulders
- High motor that doesn't quit and plays angry
- Turns the corner and quickly gets to the quarterback
How did Ray showcase those for the Tigers and how do you think it will translate to successful sacks/tackling in the NFL?
Ray explodes up the field, gets locked up in with the tackle and is unable to turn the corner but still has the vision and strength to disengage and bring down the quarterback before he can escape. He's shown the ability to use his speed to beat opponents but the critique against him has been his inability to convert speed to power.
While I would agree that's a weakness of his, it's not out of his repertoire. Stronger, long-armed NFL tackles will probably be able to stonewall him at first, but he'll be able to use the threat of his speed to set up other moves.
Here's Ray again going against fellow first-rounder Humphries.
MHR - Weaknesses cited for Ray were few but among them included not being a great run defender and being a little short for an edge rusher. Do you agree with those and how can Ray overcome that?
Ray is a 6-foot-3 and 250-ish pounds, which is basically the same size as Von Miller. He can afford to put on some muscle and sacrifice some of that speed so he can hold up against the run and remain healthy for the rigors of an NFL schedule.
But you drafted Ray because he is a fuel-injected race car looking to attack the quarterback on every play. The thing Ray can do to improve his value in the run game isn't necessarily to put on weight, it's to improve his lateral agility so he can string out runs and play sideline to sideline.
MHR - Since you are a Broncos fan, what are your hopes for the entire Broncos defense this coming year? What about the entire team - offense and defense?
I'd love for the Broncos to be a stalwart defensive team that didn't force Peyton Manning to throw 50 touchdowns in a season. I think Manning suffers a bit from over-exposure and overuse during the regular season and especially at this point in his career, he needs to save his good stuff for the playoffs.
If the Broncos' already stellar secondary and pass rush can find a complementary run defense, and the offense can become more explosive on the ground to alleviate the pressure on Manning's arm, I see no reason we aren't among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
MHR - Any cool, interesting facts/bio about Ray you can share?
Shane's father, Wendell Ray, was a fifth-round pick out of Missouri by the Minnesota Vikings in the 1981 NFL Draft. Many folks called him Wendell "Sting" Ray, and when Shane first came to Mizzou, many referred to him as "Wendell's son." However, as you may have seen on ESPN, Shane has a strained relationship with his father and only recently have they begun mending that relationship.
MHR - Finally, I see you're a Bayern Munchen fan, so I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you were pretty happy with the Germany win in the World Cup. What do you think it will take for the Denver Broncos to have the same kind of domination in the NFL that Germany showed in the World Cup last year?
I could go on for good while about Bayern Munich, but instead I'll just link you to this article I wrote the day of Germany's World Cup match against Brazil.
Bayern Munich and German soccer exist at another level than NFL football - they groom, prep and train their players in athletic-specific schools from a very young age. By design, there's too much parity and turnover in the NFL for dynastic success anymore.
That being said, I was in 7th heaven when Germany won the World Cup and would love to see the Denver Broncos turn the tables for once and blow someone out in a Super Bowl, and it would be the cherry on top to have a Mizzou guy like Shane Ray on the team when it happens.
Mia San Mia, M-I-Z and Go Broncos!