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Fifteen players to watch at Broncos training camp - 4. Shane Ray

Posted Jul 23, 2017

In the wake of DeMarcus Ware's retirement, Ray knows it's time to step forward and become one of the game's elite pass rushers.

Shane Ray's presence on the Broncos stands as an example of why you try to draft the best player on the board, even when his position isn't your most obvious need.

As the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft began, edge rusher was somewhere down the list of priorities for the Broncos. Both Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware were coming off Pro Bowl seasons. Ware had two years left on his contract; Miller had one year remaining as he was playing on a team option, but all signs pointed to a long-term deal that was eventually reached.

Ray was projected as a top-10 pick, but fell. The Broncos pounced, trading up to the No. 23 selection to take him.

Two years later, Ware is retired and Ray is poised to build off a season in which he doubled his rookie sack total (from 4 to 8) and established himself as one of the league's best young pass rushers.

The pressure is on Ray, not just because of Miller's absence, but due to Shaquil Barrett's hip injury. Depth is scarce and unproven behind Ray, making his emergence crucial for the defense's chances of maintaining its league-best performance against the pass the last two seasons.

To prepare for his expanded role, Ray spent part of his offseason self-scouting.

"I just went over all of my film and saw what worked for me and what I did well," he said during offseason work. "I saw what I could have gotten better at. That was just point ‘A’ for me.

"Now I have identified what I can get better at as a player, what went great for me and what I could have done better in coverage or the run game. I have really just taken that and gone day-by-day with it by working on my footwork, my positioning and my technique."

A single number summarizes the desired result of his offseason: One -- as in one sack per game.

"I went back to how I was thinking in college. I said in college my junior year that I can average a sack a game. Nobody can honestly stop me from getting one sack a game," Ray said.

"I look at that in the NFL and honestly I feel the same way. Nobody can block me for a whole game. One sack a game for me is equivalent to 16 games -- that’s 16 sacks. That could lead the league, not to mention playoffs or any of that stuff. That’s how I break stuff down for me and that’s what I’m going to do."

If Ray does that and Miller maintains his usual pace on the other side, the Broncos would likely have the game's most prolific pair of edge rushers, its most fearsome overall pass rush, and perhaps the league's No. 1 pass defense once again.

Of course, that's exactly the sort of production you hope to receive from a first-round talent like Ray.

Shane Ray