Former Missouri defensive end Shane Ray will learn his NFL fate and how much Monday’s citation for marijuana possession hurt his stock in the 2015 NFL Draft tonight — at least, he hopes so.
Ray, 21, was a consensus top-10 pick early in the draft process, but concerns about a lingering hyperextended right toe injury he suffered in the Citrus Bowl moved him down some draft boards.
First-round selections will be made tonight in Chicago, but, if the combination of the toe injury and the possession citation push him into the second round or later, he might have to wait until Friday night before being drafted.
The toe injury left Ray, MU’s single-season sack leader with 14 1/2 last year on the way to SEC defensive player of the year honors, unable to work out during February’s NFL Combine and led to a less eye-popping than expected pro day in mid-March.
Ray was then stopped for speeding and failure to drive in the right lane of a highway of more than two lanes early Monday morning in Cooper County, Mo., near Boonville.
The Missouri Highway Patrol trooper smelled fresh — not burning — marijuana and found a small amount in a compartment of the car.
Ray, a Bishop Miege graduate from Kansas City was issued a citation for possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana, a Class A misdemeanor, and improper lane usage. He also was given a warning for speeding and released. He has a June 30 court date in Cooper County.
Combined with an NFL.com report that Ray failed a drug test early in his career at Missouri, many analysts project a sizable draft-day slide.
“The decision-making variable here, the irresponsibility, the choice that he made only one week before arguably the biggest day of his life, you have to question his ability to make the right decision …” said Bryan Perez, co-owner of DraftBreakdown.com. “I do think it will have an impact and I think it will drop him in the draft, because it’s hard to have a confidence in a guy who makes such a poor decision in such an important week in his life.”
Of course, Perez wasn’t high on Ray to begin with, believing that he’s a one-trick pony who only wins with speed off the edge. He gave Ray a second-round grade, but still thinks the possession citation might cause him to slide as far as the third round.
Other draft analysts forecast a considerably higher draft ceiling for Ray and expect him to slide, but perhaps only to the end of the first round.
“Shane Ray brings a little bit of immediate-impact pass-rush ability and, because of the value of pass rushers in today’s NFL, I still think he’s got a very good chance of being selected somewhere in the last 10 picks of the first round,” said Rob Rang, a senior NFL Draft analyst for the Sports Xchange and CBSSports.com.
Rang projected Ray to go No. 24 overall to Arizona before Ray’s marijuana citation.
“There’s very much a possibility that he winds up falling into the second round,” Rang said. “But I don’t believe it’s all just because of Monday’s news. No question, it will have an impact. The timing of it is obviously troubling, because you’d like think the young man is preparing himself for the responsibility of being a first-round NFL player.”
Of course, Ray isn’t the only player with first-round talent but off-field red flags.
Former Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, arguably the most talented wide receiver in the draft, has on- and off-field concerns, including the alleged burglary and assault that got him booted from the Tigers last April.
Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, one of the top players at his position, reportedly failed two drug tests in college.
LSU offensive tackle La’el Collins, a potential first-round pick, isn’t a suspect, but he left the NFL Draft after he was sought for questioning in the murder of a former girlfriend, who is pregnant and was shot to death Friday in Louisiana.
It sets up for an intriguing draft as teams must weigh the risk of investing big dollars in highly talented players who, in some cases, enter the league with a strike against.
Ray (and Gregory along with others) will enter Stage 1 of the NFL’s substance-abuse program upon entering the league, which requires random drug testing for at least three and usually no more than six months, according to former agent Joel Corry.
Ray called several teams and also met with several others in the days since his citation for possession, but such issues put NFL general managers in a tenuous position after a 2014 season defined in some ways by domestic violence allegations against Ray Rice and Greg Hardy as well as Adrian Peterson’s child-abuse plea agreement.
“This is the boom-or-bust draft …,” Rang said. “We talk about boom-or-bust players every year, but it’s pretty rare that this many players who are this good have thing kind of problem.”
Still, talent often trumps all in player evaluations.
“It’s always going to be enticing for us, regardless of their issues, if they have tremendous skills,” Arizona general manager Steve Keim told reporters earlier this month. “I’ve said this before, if Hannibal Lecter ran a 4.3 (second 40-yard dash), we’d probably diagnose it as an eating disorder, you know. … To me, if you look at players and you say he’s a complete player, does he play hard, does he play smart and does he play physical. If you can check the boxes, then I think you have a chance.”
As a player, Ray checks those boxes.
It remains to be seen whether there is an NFL general manager who is willing to look past the off-field transgression and bring him into the fold Thursday or whether Ray will be the lonely soul sitting alone in the green room at the Auditorium Theatre.