Pass Rusher Profile: Shane Ray
As if boasting a pass rush which features DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller wasn’t enough, the Denver Broncos were able to plan for the future by capitalizing on the draft-day fall of Shane Ray. Dropping largely due to off-field and health concerns, Ray lands in a location where there is minimal pressure for him to contribute early, but in a scenario where he can learn and potentially gain favorable looks as and when he does see the field as a rookie.
There were few more productive pass rushers than Ray during the 2014 NCAA season and his consistency marks him out as a player capable not only of feasting on lesser opposition (2 Sk, 2 Ht vs. UCF) but also taking apart the top opposition he faced in the SEC (3 Sk, 1 Hu at Florida). Only twice in his final season at Missouri did he earn a negative pass rush grade for a single game (vs. Indiana, vs. Georgia) recording multiple pressures in every other game and multiple knockdowns (sacks and hits) in eight games. As a matter of consistency of production against quality opposition, few boasted the résumé of Ray entering this year’s draft.
When you break down Ray’s profile you further see a player with a wealth of ways to win, not merely seeking to burn inferior opposition with outside moves. He also displays his ability to counter off of his impressive first step, winning not only frequently with an inside move but also finishing from that inside move converting just shy of 50% of his inside pressures into hits (three) and sacks (six).
Questions have been asked about Ray’s ability to bend and change direction after some disappointing workout numbers, so it will be interesting to see if he can sustain the exceptional conversion percentage he displayed on both inside and outside wins at Missouri. Is the potential athletic limitation more important or his mindset with a hunger and desire to get to the quarterback more important when finishing pressures to convert them into hits and sacks?
One area that Ray perhaps needs to work on is his durability in games and making sure he finishes strong. As an 11-win team last season, Missouri put him in plenty of positions to rush the passer during the fourth quarter, but it was (on a per-rush basis) his least productive period of the game throughout the season. Again his ability to convert pressure into hits and sacks comes to his rescue as he turned eight of his 12 pressures into knockdowns, but in terms of overall production Ray was merely average during fourth quarters at Missouri last season.
Going on to a team that is likely to be playing with a lead in the fourth quarter a fair amount this season, it will be interesting to see if Ray can turn this anomaly around. One thing likely to be in his favor is that (likely) out of the starting lineup he could be fresher for any fourth quarter pass rushes he earns in the coming year.
Another relatively untapped resource for Ray to generate pressure from is against seven-step drops where again he was below par as a pass rusher in 2014. Once again a high conversion rate helps to make up for some of the short fall in quantity, but it is noteworthy that Ray made only a slight step in production rushing seven-step drops compared to five-steps. The average edge defender eligible for the 2015 draft saw his Pass Rushing Productivity jump from 9.0 to 13.4 when attacking seven-step drops vs. five-step drops, but Ray merely moved from 11.2 to 12.3, above average to below average.
The mark of Ray’s game is balance and conversion rather than quantity which, when you can use that to generate the 17 sacks Ray did last season, is no bad thing, of course. This is borne out further in his grading profile which is balanced heavily toward the higher grades for his individual pressures which is what helped him to be one of our highest-graded pass rushers last season.
If Ray can translate his game to the NFL, then moving forward the Broncos would be pairing a pass rusher who converts pressure into hits and sacks for fun with one of the league’s most productive and explosive pass rushers in Von Miller. After replacing Elvis Dumervil with DeMarcus Ware, and Ray the next man up after Ware, it would seem the Broncos are well set to continue their recent trend of boasting a ferocious two-pronged rush.
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