There weren't many college edge players that had a better season than Missouri's Shane Ray did in 2014. He had 65 tackles total tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 15 sacks and six more pressures. These stats earned him a unanimous selection to the 1st team All-American and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Ray measured at the combine at 6-foot-3 245 pounds with 33 inch arm length. He is an explosive player and this becomes obvious from the first time you put on his game film. He utilizes this explosiveness best as a pass rusher with a great speed rush.
On this 3rd and long play Ray showcases his best pass rush move, the speed rip. He fires off the snap and on his second step he is already even with the tackle. He has already won without even using a move. After just the first step, the tackle has to open his hips in desperation. Ray uses his rip move turns the corner, and swipes the ball out of the quarterback's hand.
This speed rush isn't a rare occurrence, it was Ray's best move and many of his opponents fell victim to it.
This example of the speed rip highlights the term "running the arch" perfectly. Outside of the burst off the line the most impressive thing about this play is how Ray flattens out his route to the QB even when the tackle gives him a decent shove. Like I said textbook example of "running the arch". Of course in the NFL one pass rush move isn't going to get the job done.
In the run game Ray is an excellent backside defender. He uses his explosiveness and excellent understanding of pursuit angles to make plays. When he is asked to play down the line of scrimmage, he does so with discipline, keeping his shoulders parallel to the line and preventing cutbacks. He also has an outstanding motor which only makes his play in pursuit even more impressive as he will chase down players well down field.
Ray is athletic enough to move in coverage and while not experienced in making pass drops he can add this element to his game.
Ray gets a lot of positive publicity because of how effectively he rushed the passer in college but he has a lot of weaknesses that are much more subtle than his strengths.
His body type is working against him. He is high-waisted with a short upper body. This body type isn't conducive to adding weight without losing athleticism. It also makes bending with the knees more of a challenge which shows up in a variety of areas on the field.
Change of direction is one of the more obvious areas and Ray appears to get stuck in the mud when changing direction before exploding out of it. This issue shows in measurable drill like his awful 20-yard shuttle time of 4.53 seconds and his poor three-cone drill time of 7.71 seconds. It can also be seen in his lackluster 33.5 inch vertical leap.
Where this issue shows less noticeably is in contact, with offensive linemen. Too often Ray's lower body mechanics are just awful. He doesn't do a good job of bending at knees when engaged. This leads to issues with his pad level and issues when he tries to generate power to hold the point of attack.
On this play Ray does a nice job of maintaining his gap responsibility, not letting the runner get the edge. He also does a good job of not turning his shoulders towards the sideline which again prevents him giving up the edge. However that is about all he does well in this play.
We can see at the snap Ray pops straight up. When he is engaging the tackle he is doing so with his shoulder rather that using his arm length to hold the point. His legs are almost completely extended preventing him from absorbing the tackles block and his feet are not underneath him which limits any type of ability to set the edge. This in general is poor lower body mechanics and he will need to improve greatly against much bigger and much stronger tackles in the NFL.
Those aren't his only issues against the run.
On this play Ray hits two more issues with his run defense at the point of attack. From the start of the play Ray sees the tackle block down and he follows him leaving his gap and enter that of his linebackers. Then he tries to take on the fullback only making the play worse. When he engages the full back he once again uses his shoulder negating any advantage his decent arm length would give him.
To make it even worse he uses his outside shoulder. This the not what you'd want to do as the edge defender and Ray basically gives the full back an incredibly easy block. The lane is wide open and the run goes for six yards on a 3rd and 2.
Ray tends to be gap shooter as a run defender, trying to avoid contact. This will lead to big plays, both made by him and made against him.
His weaknesses don't just show up as a run defender either.
As a pass rusher Ray is not dynamic and lacks the ability to improvise. He basically has two moves, the speed rip and the inside club rip. These would be a nice combination if Ray could use them on the fly. Instead Ray tries to guess the drop depth of the QB and decides to use one of the two moves pre-snap. When the tackle predicts correctly which move Ray is going to use, Ray doesn't adjust he just gets stuck playing patty-cake with the tackle. He needs to learn to read how the tackle is dropping and adjust his rush on the fly.
Ray also has no set up move to his rush he just goes straight into the rip absorbing the tackles punch without getting separation. He also has some other subtle issues with even his best move as shown below.
Here we can see Ray using the speed rip he used to beat this tackle frequently in this game. Once again he is parallel with the tackle after his second step but this time he ends up on the ground instead of with a sack. Why?
Well Ray has a tendency to be off balanced in his speed rush. When he tries to turn the edge, rather than getting his feet underneath of him so that he can flatten and adjust to the tackles push, his weight is forward and he is off balance. All the tackle has to do is lay his weight on him and Ray gets push off of his track.
Veteran tackles in the NFL will see this on Ray's film and destroy him if he doesn't learn to get his feet under him when turning the corner.
Shane Ray has the natural ability that coaching can't teach. He is explosive and can turn the corner. He will get sacks in the NFL just off of those two abilities. However, if he wants to be anything more than just a speed rusher, he is going to have to fix his lower body mechanics. Ray also needs to learn to be adaptive as a pass rusher rather than just set in his ways. Due to his body type he isn't going to be able to gain much more weight without severely affecting his athletic ability.
I think he is best served as a third down pass rusher in his rookie year and if he can learn to play with leverage and use his legs to generate power he can be a Pro Bowl player. If he can't learn this then he will be nothing more than a one trick pony and sooner than later NFL tackles will figure out how to stop that trick as well.