If the past is any indication, a majority of the prospects that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and company meet with prior to the draft, get drafted by the team. Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net tweeted last night that the Steelers’ brass were indeed dining with Missouri edge rusher Shane Ray, prior to his pro day today. If the reports are true, hopefully the Steelers got him some exquisite filet mignon because if he performs well at his pro day, it’ll take a pole vault of a trade up to get him.
Perhaps the first round of this year’s draft class is no stronger at one position than it’s abundance of pass rushers, like Vic Beasley, Alvin Dupree, Randy Gregory and Dante Fowler Jr. Ray is in that mix as well, and today is his day to shine. The only event he participated in at the combine was the bench press, where he posted 21 reps. This was due to a foot injury, but he’s close to 100 percent now and wants to show coaches, scouts and general managers across the league he is worthy of top 10 consideration along with the rest.
This includes names like Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, and I’m sure whoever drafts him will pray he can be a menace like Aldon Smith, minus the off-field baggage.
Standing 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, he flashes a rare quickness off the edge, seemingly being shot out of a cannon with a blinding first step. And with some prospects whose play conjures up the “looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane” adage, like Dupree, Ray’s tape matches the explosiveness he exhibits, playing every down with reckless abandon, like it’s the last snap of his football career. Those are the traits you want of your team’s top pass rusher, not one who goes hard one play, then disappears for plays at a time. His violent play is reminiscent of former Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, and one need look no further than him rewriting the Missouri record books last season, with 22 and-a-half tackles for loss and 14 and-a-half sacks.
“Shane Ray has got the best first step I’ve seen,” NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock said. “His get-off is just immediate. They even kick him inside on occasion like they used to do with Aldon Smith. He’s got to get stronger. I’m just saying at 235 or whatever he weighs, 240 pounds, he has trouble disengaging from big bodies, and that’s typical for an undersized edge rusher.”
Getting beefed up is one thing an NFL offseason program can help with, but the thought alone brings to mind a current Steeler who fans often clamor needs to do the same – Jarvis Jones. However, Ray’s physical talents seem to exceed those of Jones, and his pass rushing prowess is undeniable. His pro day today could help alleviate that. Scouts are likely going to put him through a gauntlet of 3-4 outside linebacker drills, making him prove he can drop into coverage, something I’ve seen him do without any issues. And of course his 40 time will be heavily analyzed as well, much like Jones’ was when he put up a pedestrian 4.9.
It would be a dream scenario if he somehow fell to pick 22, as he will probably wow everyone today at his pro day and cement his top 10 status. It’s interesting to wonder the dialogue that occurred at dinner last evening though. Was it the team telling him they’re drafting him, promising to trade up? Was it a smokescreen? Or was it them trying to pick his brain regarding fellow defensive lineman, Markus Golden? A projected second or third rounder who’s no slouch himself, he posted 20 tackles for loss and 10 sacks last season, including 10 tackles, 4 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks en route to Citrus Bowl MVP honors.
Golden is the more likely of the two to be available to the Steelers, but stranger things have happened. And although unlikely, Kevin Colbert has always stated if there’s a “special” player, they won’t be afraid to go up and get them. Ray will be a first round pick come draft night on April 30. It’s his pro day performance today that’ll be a deciding factor if he’s a potential black and gold candidate. And much like dinner last night, it’s likely the team will be on hand to witness.