Denver Broncos' most improved of 2016: Shane Ray
The Broncos' elite defense will continue ticking in 2017 because of Shane Ray, who's finally ready to take over opposite Von Miller.
There's a reason the Denver Broncos are content with the departure of DeMarcus Ware, and it has nothing to do with the future Hall-of-Famer's age or skill level.
Their 2015 first-round selection, Ray was Denver's most improved player last season. And the progress he made during his sophomore campaign was evident.
With an upgraded skill set, combining power and athleticism, Ray finished second on the team with eight sacks, including a hat trick in Week 3, and chipped in a defensive touchdown. He logged the Broncos' second-highest pass-rushing grade (78.9), per Pro Football Focus, behind only Miller (86.5). They nearly graded out equally in coverage.
When Ware fractured his forearm in Week 3, subsequently missing five games, Ray ensured a seamless transition in the oft-rotating linebacker corps.
Something he guaranteed before the season even began.
"That’s why I was drafted. That’s what I’m capable of doing," Ray said in August. "I don’t think there will be any drop-off between Von [Miller]’s and DeMarcus [Ware]'s production when I’m in."
Now, there's a full-time opening at outside linebacker, as Ware is heading to free agency and unlikely to return. Ray will have the first crack at starting, though he'll face competition from fellow young Horseman Shaquil Barrett.
After doubling his sack production from 2015, jumping up from four, Ray appears poised to stake his longevity with the Broncos.
The best is still to come.
Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @Kelberman247
Gordon's various suspensions will once again prevent him from truly reaching free agency
The Colts traded for Brissett prior to the start of last season due to health concerns for...
Colvin was a big part of Jacksonville's defensive improvement but is likely moving on
Vinatieri is about to finalize a deal to return for his age-46 season
Freddie Roach is one of the most decorated boxing trainers there is
Gruden knows about the pressure of his new gig, and he isn't shying away from it