ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Shane Ray is a premium prospect at a premium position who was only available at the 23rd pick because of his off-field issues last week.
And although there isn't an obvious place in the starting lineup for Ray right now with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller working as outside linebackers in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme, he will fit in the rotation at outside linebacker. That will give Ware, who turns 33 in July, the chance to rest, maximize his snaps and extend his effectiveness into his 11th and 12th seasons, and perhaps beyond.
Given the potential use of Ray in pass-rushing situations, Head Coach Gary Kubiak already perceives his initial first-round pick as Broncos head coach as a starter.
"The game is played in nickel [formations] these days -- probably more than 60 percent in our division will probably be in some form of nickel defense. That's just the way it is," Kubiak said.
"You look at him as a starter. Even though we talk about rotations, you look at him as a starter."
Although his first role will be as an edge rusher, where he uses his quickness to beat offensive tackles to the outside, Ray also has the strength to move inside a tackle and keep his balance. His inside/outside versatility ensures that the opposing offensive tackle must remain honest and not overcommit to one side.
And he's a better run defender than some pundits realize, often showing off his speed in pursuit.
"I think everyone who thinks I'm a one-trick pony should go back and watch some more film. I'm more than capable of doing everything that the Broncos require of me, especially in the run game, more so in the pass game," Ray said.
"There are things I can improve at. I don't have any issue dropping into coverage. There's no question about that at all. I think I'm more than capable of doing anything that the Broncos ask for me to do, including being the best pass-rusher in this draft."
If he becomes an all-around outside linebacker, the Broncos could have a future Pro Bowler. For now, they want Ray to provide pass-rush punch, create more tactical possibilities for Phillips and to learn from two of the best edge rushers of the last decade.
As with quarterbacks and left tackles, you usually have to invest early picks to find pass rushers of this caliber. Thanks to the misdemeanor marijuana possession citation that depressed his stock, the Broncos found one without enduring the lousy season that getting a high pick of Ray's caliber requires.