DENVER (AP) – Watching a state trooper find weed in his car just four days before the NFL draft sent Shane Ray’s heart sinking and his stock plummeting.
He owned up to his mistake and chose to attend draft festivities in Chicago nonetheless.
A top-10 talent, Ray slipped all the way to No. 23, where the Broncos traded up to grab the SEC defensive player of the year.
So, Ray is heading to Denver, where recreational pot shops are almost as common as 7-Elevens.
Is that a problem just waiting to happen?
Not at all, suggested general manager John Elway, noting that while cannabis is cool in Colorado, “it’s still illegal in the NFL.”
Ray, who will be subject to random drug testing from the get-go, insisted he’s no pothead.
“I haven’t failed a drug test. When I was cited, I wasn’t under the influence,” Ray said. “And I don’t think that weed is something that controls my life, nor has it controlled my life or been an issue. So, I think that’s really not a concern at all.”
The Broncos moved up five spots to select Ray, whom Elway had rated 10th on his draft board. Elway said he spoke with Ray before the draft and “he was very remorseful, realized he made a mistake … and guaranteed it wouldn’t happen again.”
Elway said he trusts the team’s support system and locker room leadership, so he swapped first-round picks with Detroit and also sent the Lions veteran offensive lineman Manny Ramirez, a fifth-round draft pick this weekend and another fifth-rounder in 2016.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Ray slipped down draft boards after he was issued a misdemeanor citation Monday morning when a trooper in Missouri found a small amount of marijuana in his car after pulling him over for speeding.
Ray, who led the SEC in sacks last season, sounded chastened after his selection.
“I’m so grateful and indebted to the Denver Broncos for giving me the opportunity to redeem myself,” he said.
Elway said Ray’s owning up to his mistake “showed a lot of maturity to me. He didn’t duck out of going to Chicago. He stayed in Chicago and he owned up to that mistake. And to me, that showed a lot about what he’s about and I was impressed with that.”
Elway said he couldn’t believe Ray was falling to him and felt he had to move up to make sure he got him.
“We got a guy that plays with his hair on fire and rushes the passer and loves the game of football,” Elway said. “He’s competitive and is going to be a great fit for us.”
Added coach Gary Kubiak: “He made a mistake, but he’s also done a lot of great things, too. So, I don’t think you just throw somebody out the window for one mistake.”
Ray promised to put his marijuana mistake behind him.
“I’m ready to move past that in my life. I’m not going to let that define me as a person and all the good I’ve done,” Ray said. “I’m not going to let it define my character. This is a great opportunity for me. Coming to Denver, I will not have any off-the-field issues. I’m not a person that has off-the-field issues. I plan on once again giving everything I can to the program.”
Elway also took a chance in the first round last year, selecting Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby, who slipped after a couple of run-ins with the law. That selection worked out great for both parties, and Roby said this week he considers himself a bargain at No. 31 a year ago.
Ray said the Broncos just landed themselves another first-round steal.
“All teams that passed on me, that were in the top 10, I felt like they made a huge mistake,” he said. “As a Denver Bronco, I plan on showing them about the mistake they made. I’m so indebted to the Broncos for giving me the opportunity. I can’t wait to learn from guys like Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware and be a force.”
By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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