Shane Ray missed a golden opportunity at the NFL Combine this week.
A lingering toe injury forced him to miss the on-field drills, as doctors in Indianapolis decided to hold him out. Instead, Ray watched training partner and former Clemson standout Vic Beasley put on a show, exiting the event as perhaps the most buzz-worthy draft-eligible player.
Ray expects to run and jump at Missouri’s pro day on March 19, when he’ll create a splash of his own. The NFL Network interviewed Ray on Sunday, specifically asking what he thought of Beasley’s performance and if he could’ve done the same thing given the opportunity. Ray gave a smile and a chuckle that easily could be interpreted as confident bordering on cocky.
“Yes. I think, uh, you know, speaking about my own personal talent and my work ethic,” Ray said during the broadcast. “I feel like I’m the best outside linebacker/defensive end in this class. Now I just have to wait until my pro day to prove it.”
Meanwhile, one NFL scout slammed him pretty good in an anonymous evaluation given to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
At 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, with smaller hands, Ray entered the 2014 season as second fiddle on the Tigers’ line, but emerged as the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. He made a school-record 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss, proving as adept as a power rusher inside as he was as a pure speed guy off the edge and making plays in the run game as well.
That wasn’t enough to quiet at least one scout.
“I don’t like him,” the scout said, according to the Journal-Sentinel. “People see who he is, they’re going to fall off him quick. The body structure. No way in hell he can be an outside backer. Competitive, smart and reliable. Wins with effort, urgency and great first step. He has a degree of stiffness. He’s got to win with quickness because of his lack of size and strength.”
Mock drafts consistently place Ray in the Top 10 come April 30, and assuming he performs as expected in a few weeks, he’ll get an opportunity to be the face of some NFL team’s 2015 draft class.
At his media interview in Indianapolis, Ray sounded like a guy unfazed by anyone who may doubt his physical ability at the pro level. He called the report in the Journal-Sentinel, which got picked up by NFL.com, “just noise,” and rattled off questions he’s faced his entire football career.
“I’ve shown that I can make plays in the open field, that I can drop into coverage,” Ray said.
“Throughout my career, my coaches moved me all around the defense. I’ve played over three techniques and beat guards, I’ve stood up and rushed from the middle, I’ve dropped into coverage and came back and covered guys coming out of the backfield. And I’ve just displayed my speed consistently, and what I can do as a 4-3 defensive end and outside linebacker.”
Beasley, Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr. and Nebraska’s Randy Gregory also are projected as first-round picks, and those are the players with whom Ray is competing as NFL teams look for tweener defensive end/outside linebacker types who excel at rushing the passer.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ray spent more time at the Combine talking to 3-4 teams about playing outside linebacker, and told teams he can get to 250 pounds without losing his explosiveness.
“My main message is for all these coaches and GMs is, I’m your guy,” Ray said. “If you need somebody to go attack from anywhere on the field, and be unstoppable, if I get a 1-on-1, I’m gonna win it. You want a guy you want to make the play on third down, go get the quarterback, strip the quarterback, I’ll go do that.
“That’s what I did for my team, when they needed somebody to make a play, or go chase down a guy with the football. I was the guy to go do that.”