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Broncos benefit from drug arrest to get Ray

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Make no mistake: If Missouri linebacker Shane Ray were not stopped by police and cited for marijuana possession last weekend, he would not be a Denver Bronco today.

Ray was the No. 10 player on the Broncos’ draft board. A week before the first day of the 2015 NFL Draft, they could not have conceived of a situation in which he could be available without sacrificing multiple draft picks — including, perhaps, a future first-rounder.

However, as he fell through the teens and into the 20s, the Broncos waited. When Kentucky outside linebacker Alvin “Bud” Dupree went to the Steelers with the No. 22 overall pick, the Broncos had to act, and they quickly made a deal with the Detroit Lions, a team with which general manager John Elway had discussions about trade possibilities in the days leading up to the draft.

“We thought it was too good to be true that he was still there,” Elway said.

Denver sent two fifth-round picks — one this year and one next year — plus center Manny Ramirez and the No. 28 overall pick Thursday to the Lions for the No. 23 pick. They used that slot to select Ray, who does not fill an obvious immediate need but does give the Broncos immediate depth at outside linebacker, a position where they had none after chronic knee problems forced them to waive third-year veteran Quanterus Smith on Tuesday.

The Broncos have two Pro Bowl outside linebackers: Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. However, Miller is in the option year of his rookie contract, and Ware turns 33 in July. With little depth, the Broncos needed a third pass rusher who can spell Miller or Ware — and perhaps conserve Ware’s snaps, making him fresher and more effective.

“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,” Denver coach Gary Kubiak said. “That’s just the way it is.

“You look at him as a starter. Even though we talk about rotations, you look at him as a starter.”

Ray had 14.5 sacks in the rugged Southeast Conference. He possesses a quick first step, a good variety of moves, and as Elway noted, he plays with “his hair on fire,” underscoring his January proclamation that he wanted a team that, if it lost in the playoffs, would go out “kicking and screaming,” and not meekly capitulate as Denver did during three of its last four postseason defeats, which included two losses by 35 points.

“You see the effort down in and down out, you see the chase, the passion in play,” Kubiak said. “That’s what you want on your team.”

The Broncos still need reinforcements on the offensive line, at inside linebacker and potentially at nose tackle, some of which they could target on the draft’s second day.

Even after only one round of the draft, their offseason plan paid off. They focused on finding veteran options at every position to ensure that they weren’t boxed into reaching for a specific position in the draft, and they instead could let the board fall and take advantage of a falling prospect — even one that wasn’t the most pressing need.

That flexibility made it possible to capitalize on Ray’s descent. And as he joins the Broncos, he is as confident as he is contrite.

“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.”


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