Draft experts can’t say enough good things about DE Shane Ray

Shane Ray finished with 65 tackles last season for Mizzou, including an SEC-best 22 1/2 behind the line of scrimmage. 

Kim Klement/Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

ST. LOUIS — A preternatural ability to sack quarterbacks has NFL scouts drooling over Missouri’s standout defensive ends.

Dominant pass rushers come at a premium in the pros, and few college players found more success coming off the edge this season than Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Both proved they can play on Sundays, and Ray’s name in particular skyrocketed up draft boards as he shattered Mizzou’s single-season record with 14 1/2 sacks to earn SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors.

"(Scouts) love his explosion off the ball," says Russ Lande, the founder of GM Jr. Scouting and draft expert for Sporting News. "Unlike most really high-end pass rushers, he’s a strong, powerful kid who can get off blocks at the point of attack."

A relentless motor and elite competitive drive pushed Ray to the top of Lande’s defensive ends list, even though he says Nebraska’s Roy Gregory looks like a better athlete. Ourlads’ general manager and national scout Dan Shonka agrees Ray should be a top 10 pick, noting he also has a rare burst of speed after he gets off his block to catch opposing quarterbacks or tailbacks.

That helped the junior make 65 tackles, including an SEC-best 22 1/2 behind the line of scrimmage. Lande says those qualities should give Ray the ability to play end in a 4-3 or linebacker in a 3-4, depending on where he goes, though Shonka says it could depend on what teams learn at the NFL Scouting Combine.

"If he’s 6-3 or a little bit longer and 255 pounds, he could play out on the end," says Shonka, a former scout for the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins and Kansas City Chiefs. "If he’s a little bit smaller than that, then I could see teams projecting him as a linebacker."

Missouri’s official roster lists Ray at 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, which would make him lighter than most NFL defensive ends and many of the other top 2015 prospects at the position. But that shouldn’t be enough to offset his proven production, and Lande says unknown medical issues or a poor interview at the combine are more likely to hurt Ray’s chances.

Golden may not be getting as much attention, but Lande and Shonka see a lot to like in Golden, who finished the season with 10 sacks and 78 tackles, including 20 for loss. He’ll get a big chance to make an impression at the Senior Bowl on Jan. 24, an opportunity Ray won’t have. 

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"I like (Golden) a lot," Lande says. "He might even be a little bit more explosive and sudden than Ray. He’s not as powerful."

Shonka loves Golden’s "quick twitch," and his well-documented leadership skills and passion for football should make him an even more attractive prospect. The 6-3, 260-pound St. Louis native could also find a spot as a defensive end or outside linebacker, though his strength clearly lies in rushing the passer.

Talented Missouri defensive linemen are nothing new for NFL scouts, and their production hasn’t gone unnoticed. Shonka and Lande say eight Tiger linemen drafted since 2005, including standouts such as Pro Bowlers Aldon Smith and Sheldon Richardson, mean a lot for Ray and Golden’s worthiness.

While they’re probably the only surefire draft picks from this year’s SEC East champions, several others could warrant serious consideration for spots on NFL rosters. Five other seniors made the coaches’ All-SEC first or second teams, and all of them have realistic pro aspirations.

All-purpose back Marcus Murphy may be the most intriguing case after compiling nearly 2,000 yards and scoring touchdowns as a running back, receiver, kick returner and punt returner in 2014. Shonka says teams like that kind of versatility, and Lande says Murphy’s chances of hearing his name called are about 50-50.

Bud Sasser’s breakout 1,000-yard season could get him a look if he can prove valuable on special teams, but Lande actually prefers the potential of fellow wide receiver Jimmie Hunt. His athleticism and explosiveness make him more attractive despite just 698 yards in an injury-plagued season.

Second-team offensive lineman Mitch Morse might also have a chance, and teams could be willing to use a late-round pick on senior safety Braylon Webb. He racked up 70 tackles and four interceptions at a position Lande and Shonka both say doesn’t have a lot of great options in this year’s draft class.

Of course, a lot can still happen between now and April 30, and Tiger fans have plenty of reasons to stay informed.

You can follow Luke Thompson on Twitter at @FS_LukeT or email him at lukegthompson87@gmail.com.