As he prepared to maneuver through the three-bag drill during Missouri’s pro day, Shane Ray couldn’t help but hear the cheers from the crowd.
Representatives from all 32 NFL teams were in attendance at Missouri’s Devine Athletic Pavilion on Thursday, but it turns out they were almost outnumbered by Ray’s family.
According to Ray’s mother, Sebrina Johnson, 25 family members trekked to Columbia to watch Ray, a the Kansas City native and Bishop Miege graduate who is widely expected to be a top-10 pick in this year’s draft, show off his skills in front of representatives from every team in the league.
“We all know Shane’s journey and how hard he worked to get here, so we wanted to be a part of it,” Johnson said. “My family wanted to let him know that no matter how far (they have to go), they would travel to support him, and when he looked up, they would be there. We came strong.”
That was also the pro-day goal of Ray, who understood the importance of his performance Thursday, considering he did not participate in the NFL’s Scouting Combine last month because of a lingering foot injury he suffered in Missouri’s bowl win over Minnesota in January.
“I didn’t want it to be any question on if you could put me a 4-3 defense or 3-4,” Ray said. “I feel like I could play both, and I feel like I showed that today.”
Ray, who checked in at 6 feet 3 and 249 pounds — 15 pounds heavier than he was when he started his training for the draft — wanted to show he could still run and come out and move in space.
He fell short of his goal of running a 4.4 or 4.5 40-yard-dash — his career-best at Mizzou is a 4.4, according to the school — but he did run a 4.64 according to unofficial numbers provided by the school, which would have tied for eighth among edge rushers at the combine.
And while Ray put up average marks in the vertical jump (33 inches), broad jump (10 feet) and three-cone drill (7.7 seconds) — three of the drills that NFL teams put the most stock in for edge rushers — he did look quick in other pass-rush drills, and his career bests at Missouri in the aforementioned drills are significantly better than those numbers, an indication he would have likely performed even better had his foot been 100 percent.
“I’m still getting better every day — I was able to come out here and go as hard as I could, and that’s what matters to me,” Ray said. “I would say (it feels) 90, 95 percent. I felt good doing my cuts. I felt a little pain, which is going to happen with an injury like that. But I was able to stay focused and really didn’t let it affect me.”
Most importantly, Ray says, he still put up a respectable time in the 40-yard-dash at a heavier weight than he’s used to.
“I put on this weight and I was still able to be explosive, athletic, and still be me,” Ray said. “I don’t feel like I lost a step. I feel like I’m at a better playing weight.”
There were certainly plenty of cameras there to capture the performance, as Ray had multiple crews following him and his family around, including ones from ESPN and NFL Network.
“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to have camera crews and people wanting to film my life,” Ray said. “So I really appreciate them coming out here and doing what they’re doing.”
Ray may have been the star of the show, thanks to his projected draft status and the anticipation for his workout after his limited participation in the combine, yet he certainly wasn’t the only edge rusher NFL teams were there to see.
Teammate Markus Golden, who is projected to go anywhere from the second to the fourth round by most draft analysts, was also determined to show teams that he’s worthy of a high draft pick.
“(I) really just (wanted to) show them that I’ve got speed,” said Golden, who ran a 4.90 40-yard-dash at the combine. “I don’t know what happened at that combine … I had been running 4.6’s during training that week ... I wanted to show them (today) I really run a 4.6, 4.7.”
So to work toward that goal, Golden returned to Missouri after the combine to work with Tigers strength coach Pat Ivey.
“(He’s) the best in the business, man, the one who had me running faster the moment I got here,” said Golden, who ended up running a pro-day time of 4.70, according to the school. “So I came back and worked with coach Ivey and his staff, and you see the results today. I should have stayed here and worked with them in the first place.”
Golden, who finished his final season as a Tiger with 78 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks, said he’s primarily hearing from teams that see him as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
“I played linebacker my whole life,” said Golden, who had dinner with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday but otherwise declined to disclose the teams that have shown the most interest in him. “My first time playing defensive end was my junior year (2013) at Missouri.”
Golden grew comfortable playing out of a three-point stance at Missouri, but is confident he can still play out of a two-point stance, which 3-4 outside linebackers typically do.
He shares that belief in his own ability with Ray, whose elite production (he racked up a Missouri single-season record of 14 1/2 sacks and also finished with 22 1/2 tackles for a loss in 2014) and blistering first step off the snap has certainly caught the eye of NFL teams.
“As far as I’m concerned, my April is packed,” said Ray, who added that he was scheduled to meet with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers.
But when it comes to the hometown Chiefs, Ray said, there’s been nothing formal yet, though he has had some discussions with general manager John Dorsey.
“Still waiting,” Ray said. “I talked to the GM of the Chiefs today and I actually talked to him at the combine. That was awesome for them to come talk to me.”
The thing is, thanks in part to his solid pro day performance on Thursday, Ray seems unlikely to be on the board when the Chiefs pick 18th overall — though he’s doing all he can to block out the mock drafts and draft speculation that dominate the headlines these days.
“I try not to focus on that,” Ray said. “Everybody’s going to have their opinion. Not everybody’s going to like what you do. That’s fine. Coming out here, (I’m) trying to show these coaches what I can do with my athleticism and my size. And I think I did a great job with that.”
Even better, he had a legion of family members there to watch him do just that during the latest, but not the last, step on his long-awaited journey to the NFL.
“It feels great,” Ray said of his family’s turnout on Thursday. “You’ve got your teammates here, you’ve got your family here. You’ve got support.”