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Why Broncos LB Shane Ray can live up to the hype

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We break down who has the biggest upside heading into the upcoming season.

NFL: New England Patriots at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

A new season brings new opportunities for players to make an impact; and the Denver Broncos have several young players poised to do just that in 2017.

We surveyed Broncos fans on Twitter to see which one of these young players they were most excited about.

It was a close race, but the winner was 2015 first round pick Shane Ray, who was just featured on our roster review series, here.

Shane Ray

Reason to be excited:

Shane Ray has shown flashes of what he can become over the last two seasons, and finally has the opportunity to be a full-time contributor with the departure of DeMarcus Ware.

Ray has clearly learned a thing or two from Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, as his pass rush repertoire has improved each year he has been in Denver.

You can see in the clip below, Ray’s quickness out of the gate, and Miller-esque spin move to get pressure on the quarterback.

Ray also shows exceptional power rushing the passer as well. Here he is in Denver’s Nascar package aligned between Ware and Wolfe. Ray absolutely blows up the center, creating havoc in the middle which leads to a sack.

While Broncos Country is clearly excited to see what Ray can do in a full-time role, Ray has some pretty lofty goals for himself as well, according to a conversation with ESPN’s Jeff Legwold.

“I keep pressing the goals," Ray said. “When you sit in a room with two All-Pros and two potential Hall of Famers, it’s hard to say that mentality and that idea doesn’t rub off on you. ... I want to be an All-Pro player. That’s something that I aspire to every day. I feel like every big goal that I make, I’ve made smaller goals that can attain that for me. One goal that I said, I went back to how I was thinking in college. I said in college my junior year that I can average a sack a game. Nobody can honestly stop me from getting one sack a game. I look at that in the NFL and honestly I feel the same way. Nobody can block me for a whole game. One sack a game for me is equivalent to 16 games -- that’s 16 sacks. That could lead the league, not to mention playoffs or any of that stuff. That’s how I break stuff down for me, and that’s what I’m going to do."

Ray was heralded as a steal when he was drafted at #23 overall in 2015, as many viewed him as a top 10 or top 15 player. Now, he has two seasons under his belt with some of the best pass rushers in the history of the game as mentors.

This is the year he is unleashed. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.

Area of improvement:

Shane Ray struggled mightily in run defense last year. Most of the mistakes were assignment driven, not talent or effort. He gets overaggressive at times and abandons his gap, causing major holes and large gains on his watch.

In the play below, Ray has outside contain, and abandons his outside gap to try and make a play on the ball, which allows the running back to bounce it outside for a six yard gain on first down.

If Ray wants to take his game to the next level, he must improve his discipline in run support.

Paxton Lynch (honorable mention)

Reason to be excited:

Since the poll was so close I decided to include Paxton Lynch as well. The buzz around Paxton Lynch started the minute John Elway traded up in the first round of the 2016 draft to select him.

In his rookie year, Paxton showed us glimpses of the quarterback he could become, showcasing athleticism, good decision-making, a laser rocket arm, and a gunslinger mentality.

In his first game action in relief of an injured Trevor Siemian, he showed good poise and came out slinging it right out of the gate. Check out the video below to see every throw he made that game. There were a few that should get all Bronco fans excited about his potential.

Paxton Lynch week 4 and 1st NFL start.. keep it up !!!! DB4L

Posted by Bad Ass Denver Broncos on Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Area of Improvement:

Paxton Lynch’s biggest struggle in his rookie year was his accuracy, due to poor mechanics.

His footwork and throwing motion looked downright wonky at times, which caused his throws to be erratic. Particularly in the Jacksonville game, he missed several wide open would-be touchdowns due to poor footwork.

While this is understandable given his lack of experience under center and Gary Kubiak’s scheme requiring the QB to operate from there, Paxton Lynch had a long hill to climb heading into this off season.

The good news is that he has reportedly been working with a quarterback guru all off season to address these issues, and has looked much better so far in OTAs.

The quarterback battle will be one of the most scrutinized and talked about developments of training camp and pre-season.

Trevor Siemian has a solid season already on his resume, and is looking to hold on to the job, but Lynch may have made enough strides in his development to overtake him. All we can do is pop some popcorn and watch this thing play out.

Who are you most excited about this year? Let’s discuss in the comments.