ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --And that is why a team picking at the end of the first round does its due diligence on top-10 caliber players.
A week ago, the Broncos could scarcely have dreamed that Shane Ray would be available in the 20s, putting him within a reasonable draft-night trade of their reach. Ray sat 10th on their draft board. Mock drafts had him gone before the 15th selection -- and, in some cases, off the board within the first 10 picks.
His pass-rushing skills warranted that status. With 14.5 sacks last season in the rugged Southeastern Conference and perhaps the quickest first step of any 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 defensive end in the draft class, he was set to be a high draft pick -- even though there were some concerns about his toe injury.
A misdemeanor citation for marijuana possession in Cooper County, Mo. changed that and sent Ray's stock tumbling -- past teams that needed pass rushers, into the 20s.
"We thought it was too good to be true that he was still there," Executive Vice President John Elway said.
And Elway was able to say that because the Broncos had met Ray and established a relationship with him throughout the pre-draft process, going back to the National Scouting Combine in February. There seemed little chance that Ray would fall to their No. 28 draft slot, but the Broncos got to know him and gathered information, anyway. You never know when you might need it.
That foundation opened the door for Elway and several other Broncos executives, including Director of Player Development Ray Jackson, to speak with him and get to the bottom of what happened with the weekend incident.
"It was a situation where I let somebody really close to me influence me and it ended up costing me," Ray said. "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."
And Elway felt Ray struck the proper tone of contrition and ownership of his miscue.
"He was very remorseful. He realized he made a mistake. He told me it wasn't going to happen again," Elway said.
"To be able to realize when you make a mistake and to own up to that mistake, to me that's the first step in realizing that's not going to happen again," Elway added. "It showed a lot of maturity to me. He didn't duck out of going to Chicago (for the NFL Draft); he stayed in Chicago, he owned up to that mistake and to me that shows a lot about what he's all about. I was impressed with that."
And now Ray is filled with motivation to atone for his mistake. According to Spotrac.com, the difference between the 10th and 23rd picks in guaranteed money last year was $5,622,999. Ray understands the costs, both financial and for his career, since he is expected to go into Stage 1 of the NFL's substance-abuse protocol.
But he's also grateful that the Broncos saw the potential reward of picking him, and is determined to justify their faith.
"I just ensured the Broncos that if they made the decision to give me a chance, I would give everything plus more and show them that they made the best decision in this draft," Ray said. "With them trading up five picks to get me, that shows that their commitment to me, and I owe them more than anything."
He owes the Broncos, but he wants to make others pay. Ray admits to his mistake. Now he wants to show other teams that they made one, too.
"All the teams that passed on me that were in the top 10, I feel like they made a huge mistake," Ray said. "And as a Denver Bronco, I plan to show them about the mistake they made."
See photos from new Bronco Shane Ray's football career leading up to being selected 23rd overall.