Shane Ray is a fascinating case study for just which traits are important factors for talent evaluators to handout a first-round grade. Coming from Missouri's system, which has produced Aldon Smith and Sheldon Richardson among others, the pass-rusher seems to be a top-10 lock based on how he's being discussed and mocked by those plugged into the league, per CBS Sports.
When looking at him on paper, though, there's a lot more questions than answers. As the weak-side defensive end for the Tigers, he was matched up against SEC left tackles for a majority of his junior season, finishing the year with 14 sacks and the conference's Defensive Player of the Year honors.
But, there's more to talent evaluation than just statistics and trophies. When watching his broadcast footage, he gives off the vibe that he's a limited player. He will make a handful of plays a game, but they typically come in the same fashion. The high-cut burst-runner finishes due to his savvy, but he lacks the second gear to truly fall under the category of a freak athlete.
Ray open field tackle on a receiver running the ball. https://t.co/hygueL7PDM— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) January 24, 2015
The play above against Central Florida is a great example of what I mean. He's able to close on the ball-carrier on the jet sweep, but you notice his running style. He's got great burst off the line of scrimmage, his best attribute, but he's a player who takes quick, choppy steps instead of long-striding to eat as much turf as possible. That, in my opinion, is why he's unable to truly get into that second gear.
Ray cleaning up for the TFL. https://t.co/U6AyegTKb1— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) January 24, 2015
On this rep, you see another one of Ray's good traits: his effort. As a weak-side defender, and possibly weak-side outside linebacker at the next level, there's going to be a lot of times when he's asked to keep outside containment on a run play, sort through trash and chase down the ball-carrier if he cuts back. That's exactly what he does here, even flashing that explosive burst when he puts his foot in the dirt.
That same explosion just isn't sustainable throughout a play. Against the University of Florida, Ray had a straight shot at attacking the Gator punter. If you knew ahead of time that the punter would mishandle the long snap and an alleged top-10 defender who is noted for speed, was barely going to get a hand placed on him by the blocker on special teams, one would assume he would be in position to block the punt.
Ray not able to close on a punter. https://t.co/78C20e64XA— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) January 24, 2015
Instead, his long speed hindered him, allowing the punter to get the ball off before he could get home. The more footage I watched of him, the more this became a glaring concern.
Functionally, Ray is a speed-rusher. He doesn't really convert speed to power and bull rush through tackles, because he has the tendency to stand up when he doesn't win initially. He doesn't have the balance and body control to bend around a tackle, as he attacks with a wide base approach. He's a bit of a one-trick pony, hoping to gun past offensive linemen as they get out of their stance.
He's got pretty good technique and burst, but if he doesn't win initially, he's not going to win at the next level consistently. At least not by the way he's playing currently. Ray could be best suited for a wide-nine type of role, just because the style of pass-rusher he is.
If an offensive lineman is able to get a full body on him, he's done for on the play. Ray usually gets his hands on the inside of a pass-blocker quickly, but his lack of a counter moves and set ups make him less likely to have an impact the later the play goes if he hasn't shaken the bookend off the jump.
In the end, Ray is going to be the player you want to see. If you want to see the SEC's top pass-rusher and a top-10 pick, there's a way to convince yourself that he's that. If you want to see a limited edge player who is good but not great, there's that on the table, too.
He's a player who is going to win based off his initial jump off the line of scrimmage in the pass game and effort to trail runners in the run game, but the same way he generates that quick burst, with fast and short choppy steps similar to a caffeinated crab, keeps him from tapping into his true potential as far as closing speed is concerned. His style as an edge player is a bit without identity. His hands are active enough to be combined with his burst to free him up early, but he's not a technical wizard who's taking away the hands of the man lined up across him.
By and large, he's a half-body player. If he only is blocked by half the body of a tackle, he's able to continue running past him, even in an altered route. If a tackle has time to square him up, though, he can look irrelevant on plays. He's a high runner who doesn't use leverage to convert his speed to blow through his man. He also loses a lot of steam when changing his course in space.
It wouldn't shock anyone if he goes as high as he's being projected currently on draft day, but I'm also not sure he's the right choice that high. Unless you are able to get into his head and rewire him as a functional athlete, there's only a few defined roles the collegiate defensive end can thrive in, and I'm not sure those are worth such a premium investment.