There may be no player as controversial in the 2015 NFL draft than Missouri’s Shane Ray.
First, there were the injury concerns, with Ray injuring his toe in his team’s January 1 bowl game. That injury kept him from participating in the scouting combine and held him to a disappointing showing at his Pro Day in March. Though it was later revealed that Ray’s foot injury—categorized as “similar to turf toe,” per NFL Media’s Mike Huguenin—would not require surgery, it already had raised some red flags from interested teams.
Then came Ray’s citation on Monday for marijuana possession and a traffic violation. The citation was not an arrest, but it still prompted former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik to say that Ray’s draft stock could drop from Round 1 all the way to Rounds 3 or 4 (h/t Pro Football Talk).
The marijuana itself is not the issue, Dominik said, but rather the fact that he made “such a poor decision this close to the draft.” Dominik continued:
“It’s the decision making. What is this guy going to do on Friday or Saturday night before a big game? Is he going to make another poor choice like this?”
Now, though, it looks like neither Ray’s toe nor his Monday run-in with the law will do much to knock Ray’s draft stock down all that far. ESPN’s Adam Schefter said on NFL Insiders that he doesn’t have “any doubt” Ray will be taken in Round 1, which begins on Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET.
"I don't have any doubt that Shane Ray is going to go in the 1st round" – @AdamSchefter on NFL Insiders
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) April 30, 2015
Ray has long been considered one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing prospects, one who is able to play either stand-up outside linebacker or hand-in-the-dirt defensive end—or both, in a hybrid front. In three seasons at Mizzou, he totaled 120 combined tackles, 34 tackles for a loss and 19 sacks. In 2014, he had 65 total stops, 22.5 for a loss and 14.5 sacks, the latter two leading the conference and helping earn him 2014 SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors.
To his credit, Ray has not shied away from his recent troubles, speaking openly about them and issuing apologies at a NFL Play 60 event Wednesday. Via NFL.com, Ray said:
“I don’t think a lot of people expected me to still come and be here, and face this. But I’m a man and I’m not going to run from anything. I’ve been open with everybody with what happened and of course I’m very sorry that it did happen, but like I said all I can do is learn from my mistakes as a person just like everyone else and continue to grow, that’s the most important thing.”
“With the timing of what happened, of course they would question my judgment. All I can try to do is ensure the teams that I will grow from my mistake and I’ll continue to try and make better decisions.” He also expected that he will hear his name called in Round 1: “I’m getting a little bit more interest from teams later on in the first round, that’s what it is.”
Clearly, Schefter is also hearing the same thing. Even with concerns around Ray’s health and decision-making, his recent acts of contrition combined with his proven on-field ability should keep him firmly in Round 1, even if that means he’s no longer in the top-10 discussion.
Photo: USA Today Sports