Former Missouri defensive end Shane Ray has a message for the 22 NFL teams that passed him up Thursday during the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre.
You’re going to regret it.
Ray, 21, a Kansas City native and Bishop Miege graduate, slid down some draft boards in recent week because of a lingering toe injury and a brush with the law Monday, but that didn’t stop the Denver Broncos from trading up to select him No. 23 overall.
“All the teams that passed on me that were in the top 10, I feel like they made a huge mistake,” Ray said in a teleconference after his selection. “And as a Denver Bronco, I plan to show them about the mistake they made. Like I said, I’m so grateful to the Denver Broncos for giving me the opportunity, and I can’t wait to learn from guys like (fellow outside linebackers) Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and just be a force.”
Ray, who set a single-season Tigers record with 14 1/2 sacks last season and was chosen as the SEC defensive player of the year, had been widely considered a top-10 pick early in the draft process.
However, questions arose because a hyperextended big toe on his right foot has been slow to heal since he injured it Jan. 1 during the Citrus Bowl.
“It’s a variation of a turf toe injury on the serious side and it just took a lot of time,” said Ray, who is still rehabbing the injury but doesn’t expect it to require surgery. “It’s going to take some time for me to heal. I haven’t had the time, but once I get to the Broncos and get the proper treatment and rehab I’ll be ready to go.”
Ray’s stock took another hit Monday when he was stopped for speeding on westbound Interstate 70 near Boonville, Mo., and issued citations for possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana and failing to drive in the right lane of a two-lane highway.
Ray, who has a June 30 court date in Cooper County, Mo., is eager to put that behind him.
“I can’t really go into too many details about what happened,” Ray said. “It was a situation where I let somebody really close to me influence me and it ended up costing me. But at the end of the day, I still should have made a smart decision.
“I put myself in that position, and I understand that. I’ve owned that, and I can accept that and what’s coming with the consequences of what happened, but more so, I’m ready to move past that in my life. Because I’m not going to let that define me as a person. I’m not going to let that define my character.”
Broncos director of player development Ray Jackson spoke with Ray after Monday’s incident and felt comfortable that it was a one-time mistake.
Denver had Ray as the No. 10 overall player on its draft board, so when he was still available in the second half of the first round, Elway pulled the trigger on a trade with Detroit.
The Broncos moved up five spots to No. 23 and sent Detroit the No. 28 overall pick (used to select Duke guard Laken Tomlinson), a fifth-round pick on Saturday (No. 143 overall), a 2016 fifth-round pick and offensive lineman Manny Ramirez.
“Where Shane fell on our board, we just felt like it was something we couldn’t pass up,” Broncos executive vice president of football operations and general manager John Elway said. “We have the upmost confidence in Shane that, in talking with him, that he realized the mistake that he made and guaranteed that it wouldn’t happen again.
“Having the chance to get to know him and the time that I did spend with him, I felt very comfortable with him. We feel good about him and realized that he made a mistake, but also the type of football player that we got. We got a guy that plays with his hair on fire, rushes the passer, loves the game of football, is competitive and is going to be a great fit for us.”
Chiefs general manager John Dorsey said the Chiefs had a late first-round grade on Ray, so he wasn’t heavily considered before the Marcus Peters pick at No. 18 overall.
Ray said the Broncos needn’t worry about him playing in Colorado, where marijuana is legal, despite an NFL.com report this week that he failed a drug test early in his MU career.
“No, not at all,” he said. “I haven’t failed any drug tests. When I was cited, I wasn’t under the influence and I don’t think that weed is something that controls my life, nor has it controlled my life or been an issue. So, I think that’s really not a concern at all.”
Ray will enter Stage 1 of the NFL’s substance-abuse program, because of Monday’s citation and will be subject to additional random drug tests for three to six months.
“I’m so grateful and indebted to the Denver Broncos for giving me the opportunity to redeem myself,” Ray said. “After Monday, it was a tough situation, and I really felt that I had, of course, hurt myself so much. Coming up here and facing what I did, owning up as a man, I feel like that showed a lot about my character.
“I haven’t been a person who’s had a lot of off-the-field issues. This is one that popped up, and it’s unfortunate that it happened a few days before the draft, but, the Broncos still giving me the opportunity, I can’t wait to come in and give everything I can to this program.”
Ray might be limited during the Broncos’ offseason workouts now that he can focus on recovering from the toe injury rather than preparing for MU’s Pro Day and working out for teams.
“When I go to the Broncos, they’ll have whatever I need to do to recover and, by the season, I’ll be ready to go out there and be the same Shane Ray that you saw on Saturdays attacking quarterbacks,” he said.
Ray is Missouri’s seventh first-round pick since 2009 and the sixth defensive lineman under coach Craig Kuligowski’s tutelage to be drafted during that span.
He is the 19th overall first-round selection in program history and the 27th player drafted since Gary Pinkel’s arrival in 2001.
Some believe Ray relies too much on his speed, while others contend that he has an elite first step, perhaps the best of any pass-rush specialist in the draft, and is wise to rely on that gift.
“That’s a little unfair to characterize him as a one-trick pony,” said Rob Rang, the senior NFL Draft analyst for the Sports Xchange and CBSSports.com. “He’s a guy who definitely relies on his speed, but any player who had that type of first-step acceleration I think would rely on their speed.”
Rang submitted that his rock-solid production as a reserve in 2013 and monster season as a junior prove his worth on the field, especially against elite competition in the SEC.
“He is more physical and more tenacious than some have characterized him,” Rang said. “At the same time, the physicality and the size in the NFL is a jump, even for SEC players. I do believe he’s going to have a little bit of a learning curve, but some of that could be mitigated with the fit of where he winds up in the NFL.”