Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller is one of the best edge rushers the NFL has ever seen. The five-time Pro Bowler has 73.5 sacks in his first 88 career games, but he’s not the only one capable of Pro Bowl-caliber production off the edge in Denver.
Shane Ray is emerging as a star as well, and that was clear in 2016.
Ray was the Broncos’ first-round pick at the 2015 NFL Draft, and after racking up 4 sacks as a situational pass rusher in 2015, he worked his way into a starting role in 2016. He played in 58 percent of the Broncos’ defensive snaps — up from 35.4 percent in 2015 — and recorded 8 sacks. And his play was a big reason why the Broncos allowed DeMarcus Ware to ride off into the sunset this offseason.
Now, Ray enters 2017 with an opportunity to ratchet up the intensity even more and to take advantage of the fact that you simply can’t double-team both he and Miller. And that could mean Pro Bowl selections for both, and possibly more.
The Broncos defense is unrelenting against the pass with Miller and Ray attacking off the edge and then Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Jr., Darian Stewart and T.J. Ward making up the “No Fly Zone” in the secondary. Stewart, Harris and Talib all made Pro Bowls along with Miller, and Ward has a pair of selections to his name during his seven-year career.
Denver has added beef to stock up against the run by signing Domata Peko and Zach Kerr, and that only stands to allow those playmakers in the back eight to fly around even more. And while everyone will benefit, Ray may gain the most.
Pressure off the edge doesn’t always boil down specifically to the number of sacks made, and Ray’s impact will have to extend beyond simply bringing the quarterback to the ground as the Broncos look to improve against the run.
However, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to expect double-digit sacks in 2017 from Ray and for him to cement his presence as a bright young pass rusher with his first Pro Bowl appearance, as well.