Before I dig into it, I wanted to take a second to thank Broncos Country for the outpouring of support I received for my first edition of GIF Horse. It was a ton of fun to study up on Royce Freeman and share my thoughts with you. I’m glad you guys enjoyed it too.
Shortly after the draft, the Broncos passed on Shane Ray’s fifth year option. Combine that with Barrett signing his RFA tender and it’s entirely possible that 2018 is their last season in the orange and blue. But next year’s cap situation offers some flexibility, and pass rushers hardly grow on trees...
Should Elway keep one (or both)?
To start things off I took an extended look at Shaq’s play in week 1. This seemed like a good opportunity to see what the former CSU Ram could do with substantial playing time, since Ray was hurt. The first play that really stood out to me:
It doesn’t take long to realize that Shaquil Barrett excels at setting the edge. He does a good job of stacking off the opposing blockers outside shoulder before committing to rush. This is important as it effectively prevents runners from clean runs into free space. They have to run where the majority of the Broncos D is. In the play above Barrett disengages inside, but not before Rivers is feeling Miller’s presence.
This is easy to do against an immobile quarterback, but Shaq does it with great regularity throughout his tape. Setting a strong edge is probably one of his biggest strengths as a player. One of the exciting things is when he uses that strength to play head games, like he did against Washington later in the season.
I really love this play. Why? Shaq doesn’t commit to the inside rush until it’s beyond clear that the back is going out into a route. In doing this, he keeps an eye on the contain and still takes advantage of the tackle opening up his inside foot. That weakness is exploited by the quicker Barrett who then has an open runway to Kirk Cousins blindside.
Stacking the edge was not exactly a strength of Ray’s in 2017.
This isn’t entirely his fault, of course: reports suggest that Ray was playing as much as 18 pounds below his 2016 weight when he made it back to the field last season. Combine that with little to no time in the weight room because of his wrist injury and it’s pretty impressive that he found the field at all. Still, I found far too many plays like the one above where he was stuck to, or stood up by the opposing blocker.
Still, it’s not all bad for the former 1st rounder. He still flashed the kind of athleticism that had many experts crowning him as an emerging star after 2016.
The problem, of course is that flashing on tape in year 3 leaves you more disappointed than anything else. Sure the potential is exciting but how much will that cost Denver? What’s more: Ray was considered the most likely first rounder to disappoint by Football Outsiders Sack Seer forecast before the 2015 draft. One glaring deficiency on his Missouri resume? A lack of pass defenses.
Reddit poster PotRoastBoobs made a nifty chart comparing the two Broncos and knocking down passes is hardly a strength of Ray’s now. He has only one pass defense credited to him thus far in his career, compared to Shaq’s 6. With over 1,300 snaps played by both, this is notable. Also noteworthy? Barrett stands two inches shorter than Ray.
In fact, if the Elway does decide to keep Ray over Barrett it would have to be on little but the upside Ray provides. While Ray does have two more sacks (13 to 11) than Barrett, Shaq has far more forced fumbles, tackles for a loss and he stands out on tape far more often. While it’s noteworthy that he hasn’t gotten home as much as Ray, it isn’t the end all be all.
It’s gotten lost in the shuffle a bit, but the fact is both players actually had injury issues last year. Perhaps because Barrett didn’t miss time, we forget this, but there’s reason to believe he will also perform better in 2018 and going forward than he showed in ‘17 as well.
As of now, I think Barrett would be a better long term investment as the third rusher going forward than Ray. Obviously this could change if Ray suddenly has a career year like the Packers Nick Perry did in 2016, but that’s where it stands now. Barrett is the superior player and offers more value.
Still Grazin’? Here’s some other thoughts.
1. Watching the 2017 tape where Joe Woods had Von Miller, Ray and Barrett on the field together offers a really exciting glimpse as to what could be coming with Bradley Chubb in the fold.
One version of the 4 Ace NASCAR package I’m most intrigued by is Chubb and Ray inside matched up against interior linemen. This would keep Barrett where he’s at his best setting the edge while also providing flexibility with Von on designer stunts to cause all sorts of havoc.
2. I do wonder how DeMarcus Walker fits into all of this. Vance Joseph has said that he’ll be a defensive end moving forward, which is probably for the best. Still, it’s a very crowded front 7. It’s purely speculative, but Derek Wolfe could be a surprise cut. Shelby Harris, Walker, Zach Kerr, Domata Peko, Adam Gotsis and Clinton McDonald turn this into a numbers game and Wolfe is paid like an elite interior DL.
3. What do you want me to look into for the next GIF horse? Let me know by voting (you don’t even have to register) or in the comments, on Twitter or even by carrier pigeon.
What would you like me to look at next time?
This poll is closed
Case Keenum! Could he be "the answer" at QB?
Paxton Lynch! Is he a bust? Is there still hope?
Shelby Harris! Was his 5.5 sack season a fluke?
Garett Bolles! Why are you so down on him Joe?
Darian Stewart! Why do you think 2018 will be his last as a Bronco?
Justin Simmons! How good was his 2017, really?
Other (Please comment or message me)