Missouri's Shane Ray, Markus Golden headed in different directions
Entering the 2014 season, Markus Golden got as much hype and attention as any defensive player in the SEC East, while Shane Ray was a respected afterthought.
Those roles reversed somewhere around the time that Golden injured his hamstring and missed the fourth game of the season against Indiana. Now, as the NFL draft approaches, Ray is a sure-thing first-round pick, while Golden has to hope he’ll get selected early on the third and final day.
Despite the hamstring issue, which cost Golden one game and affected him for several weeks, the two players had nearly identical numbers for Mizzou in 2014.
Golden: 78 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks
Ray: 65 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks
But Ray, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, has been projected often as a Top 10 pick.
After reportedly clocking at 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash last offseason, a toe injury forced Ray to miss the physical drills at the NFL Combine. He then ran 4.64 seconds, unofficially, at Mizzou’s pro day in March. He didn’t have the out-of-the-gym explosiveness forecast by ’14 preseason articles calling him one of the top athletic freaks in all of college football.
NFL Network’s Mike Mayock recently slid Ray down to his fifth-best edge rusher in the 2015 draft class behind Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr., Nebraska’s Randy Gregory, Clemson’s Vic Beasley and Kentucky’s Bud Dupree.
“His 40 time was not awful, and the way he played is more important,” ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. told the Columbia Tribune on a recent conference call. “A lot of guys test well and don’t perform with the pads on. Ray shows quickness, explosiveness and a ton of ability.
“I think you look at that and factor all that into the equation. I don’t think it’s going to push him down past inside 10 to 12, inside that grouping.”
Fowler has separated himself during pre-draft testing and likely will be the first edge rusher taken in the draft at No 3 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. After that, Ray will compete with those other three players to go in the next dozen or so picks.
Listed at 245 pounds at Missouri, Ray admitted he put on significant weight to reach 249 pounds ahead of the pro day. He’ll need to continue to add weight if he wants to be more than a situational pass rusher either as an outside linebacker or as a 4-3 defensive end. At Mizzou, he got blocked too easily too many times when teams ran right at him, and though he excelled running stunts, swim moves and on speed blitzes, didn’t show an ability to do much else when opposing tackles were quick enough with their feet to cut off his lane.
But he’s just too explosive as a pass rusher, and too good at chasing down ball-carriers, for NFL teams to pass.
So, will the Tigers send a pair of terrific edge rushers to the NFL near the same point in the draft?
“Without him, there can be no me. Without me, there could be no him,” Ray said after the team’s bowl win against Minnesota. “We’ve always fed off of each other.”
The first double-digit sack combo in Missouri history now will have to prove they can operate without each other. Are the good enough as individual players to make an impact in the NFL?
Scouts seem to say yes for Ray, valuing his explosiveness. Much like Michael Sam, though, Golden is getting labeled as a tweener, a late-round talent not agile or fast enough for outside linebacker and too small and weak to be a hand-in-the-ground defensive end.
At 6-foot-2 and 256 pounds, Golden ran 4.90 seconds at the NFL Combine, improving to 4.70 at the Tigers’ pro day. Keep in mind those are hand-timed. He told the Columbia Tribune that most teams have talked to him about playing as a stand-up outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, something he’d done for most of his life before Mizzou put his hand in the ground for his big ’14 season.
Starting the season, many felt Golden had a chance to grow into a second- or third-round guy. At best, now, Golden probably is a fourth- or fifth-round pick. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. said there are some concerns with Golden’s speed and short arms despite his terrific production in college.
“Really good college player, not quite as highly regarded as you might think given his productivity,” Kiper Jr. said of Golden. “But on Day 3, you get a guy who can be a rotational guy, play on special teams, he could maybe intrigue some guys at that point.”
Both players will get drafted. Their performances in OTAs and training camp will determine their 2015 roles, and in Golden’s case, whether he makes an NFL roster. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Golden, like Sam, struggle to stick with an NFL team, while Ray is good enough as a pass rusher to make a name for himself.
We’ll know a lot more when the draft kicks off April 30.