Shane Ray has many ingredients that should make him an NFL star.
The Missouri junior defensive end who will look to play linebacker in the NFL is talented and blessed with many God-given attributes that include size, speed, and strength. Above his physical attributes, Ray has proven he's a fighter, both on and off the football field, and now with the challenge of his injured toe, Ray may be the most driven player in the 2015 NFL Draft to show this injury is just a minor roadblock on his way to NFL stardom.
Before Missouri's bowl game this past winter, Ray was slated to be a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft. He tallied a school-record 14.5 sacks in 2014 while recording a staggering 22.5 tackles for loss while recording three forced fumbles in winning the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
Ray's glittering junior year wouldn't end on a high note, however, injuring his toe in Missouri's 33-17 win over Minnesota in the Florida Citrus Bowl. The injury disallowed Ray to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and has led to rumors that Ray may need to have surgery on his toe which will lead to question marks regarding his availability in training camp and the start of the regular season.
Ray cleared the air last week on ESPN's First Take, stating that his toe simply needs time to heal and that he should be ready by the start of the 2015 NFL season. Still, NFL Draft experts are expecting Ray's draft stock to slide to the later portion of the first round of the draft.
Ray's drop will surely be someone's gain. The 6-foot 3-inch, 245-pound Ray is a versatile athlete that is a master at rushing the quarterback. His NFL.com bio described Ray as such:
"An explosive athlete in every sense. Has elite power for his size and explodes off the line like a coiled spring. Rushes passer with extreme passion and purpose. Has fast, violent hands with advanced understanding of how to use them. Tough and plays with bad intentions on each snap. Uses rip to get under linemen and out-leverage them. Once he gets to blocker's edge, they struggle to recover and redirect. Rare ability to post inside leg and get his body turned sharply and quickly around it toward quarterback. Excellent change-of-direction talent. Has natural coordination of head fakes, footwork and hand usage in pass rush. Works hard to stand his ground against power. Has power in upper body and hips to punch and dispatch with tight ends against run. Rarely runs past the arc as a rusher and will fight to come back underneath if he gets on the high side. Was able to drop into space with no issues when asked."
Hall-of-Fame general manager Bill Polian also offered high praise for Ray, comparing him to a Pro Bowl pass rusher he once drafted.
"When I see him I see Robert Mathis," Polian said recently on ESPN. "Near a Hall of Fame player. People who don’t like him are going to say he’s narrow of build and therefore can’t stand on the line of scrimmage, and that’s fine. I don’t want him to stand on the line of scrimmage, I want him to go chase the quarterback, and he’s about the best in this draft at doing that."
Besides his peerless knack at pass-rushing, Ray also has an underlying drive to succeed that has been with him all his life. That drive helped him escape a troubled upbringing found the young Ray living in some of the most dangerous conditions imaginable. Using football as a channel to funnel his internal drive, Ray starred at the youth league and prep levels and earned a scholarship at Missouri. Now, facing speculation about his toe, Ray will again look to that inner drive to prove people wrong.
The Steelers pass rush hasn't been what it once was recently, tallying just 33 sacks last season. Adding a player like Ray should bolster Pittsburgh's pass rush which will be needed next season when facing quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Joe Flacco, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Sam, who said on First Take that he would prefer to play in a 3-4 defense, could become the Steelers' next top-flight pass rusher at linebacker, replacing a void that hasn't been filled in several years.
Shane Ray has many of the physical qualities the Steelers could use, but above that, Ray has been described as having a fighter's spirit, which could provide a tougher attitude to a defense that will need to do their part to make the 2015 season one to remember.