COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Former Missouri defensive end Shane Ray had more to prove than any other highly touted pass-rusher in this year's draft when his pro day began. By the time he was finished Thursday, he left little doubt that he could make a future NFL team very happy.
Even with a nagging toe injury on his right foot still bothering him, Ray ran solid times in the 40-yard dash (scouts clocked his two sprints in the mid-4.5 range with some going as low as 4.5). The 6-foot-3 redshirt junior also weighed in at 249 pounds, which was four pounds heavier than his listed weight last season and at the NFL scouting combine. The toe injury prevented Ray from doing anything except lift weights at the combine, where he performed 21 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press. At Missouri's workout, Ray felt confident that he showcased his potential during drills designed to assess his potential as a pass-rusher and an outside linebacker.
Asked about his effort, Ray said, "I think I answered the question of whether I can play in space, move my hips and play outside linebacker. First there was a huge question about my weight. Then it was my height. But all in all, it's about production."
"I think he's done enough," said one AFC defensive coach in attendance. "In my mind, he's the most explosive guy out of all the edge rushers in this draft. He doesn't have as much girth as you would like -- and his weight fluctuated some -- but he can get after it. When it comes to this testing, you have to remember that we're not getting ready for the Olympics here. We're playing football, and he can do that."
There was no doubting that Ray was the main attraction at Missouri's pro day. He ranked third nationally in both sacks (14.5) and tackles for loss (22.5), and he was named first-team All-American and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. When Ray announced he was forgoing his final season of college, several draft analysts considered him a potential top-10 pick. But after injuring his toe in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, he had to watch other top pass-rushers -- including Florida's Dante Fowler Jr., Nebraska's Randy Gregory and Clemson's Vic Beasley -- dominate the spotlight.
Ray even had to defend himself at the combine, when he responded to an anonymous scout saying there was "no way in hell" that Ray could transition from being a 4-3 defensive end to being a 3-4 outside linebacker. Ray said such criticism served as motivation for him. His mother, Sebrina Johnson, saw his focus earlier this week.
"When we sat down on Sunday, he was really confident," Johnson said. "The last time he was like that was when he told me he was going to be an All-American and break Missouri's single-season sack record before last year started. So when he came into today, I wasn't worried. I knew he would slay it."
Ray performed other tests with his teammates -- including the vertical jump, broad jump and position drills -- but his 40-yard dash times and his athleticism while working as an outside linebacker were the most critical elements of his day. One team that showed heavy interest in him was the Pittsburgh Steelers, as Ray dined with head coach Mike Tomlin and other staff members Wednesday night. It's possible that Ray might fall to the Steelers when they pick 22nd overall, but he may have done enough to go much higher.
"Teams wanted to know if I could play outside linebacker," Ray said. "I wanted to show them that whether I am in a 4-3 or a 3-4, I can do it."