I will start off by saying Danny Shelton is not a flashy player. He will not wow you with body crushing hits, he won’t blow past offensive linemen with his speed, and he won’t be making jumping interceptions. What he will do is be a big body in the interior of the defensive line that will command two blockers and provide a sturdy run stopping presence with the ability to get after the quarterback as well. At 6’2″, 340 lbs, he is a very similar player to someone we have grown to love in New England: Vince Wilfork. He currently ranks 27th on Matt Miller’s Bleacher Report top 50 big board for the 2015 draft.
Currently, the Patriots are very thin on the defensive line. With this year’s first round pick, Dominique Easley, having the flexibility to play tackle as well as end, the Patriots still need a clear cut defensive tackle to compliment Sealver Siliga, Vince Wilfork, and potentially Casey Walker. Wilfork is no guarantee for the next several years, and someone will need to take his place. Shelton has the potential to be a possible replacement for Wilfork, should the big guy call it a career.
So far this year, Shelton has been a disruptive force in the middle. He has already recorded 7.5 sacks and more than 10 tackles for a loss. Working with an impressive Washington defense has allowed Shelton to put his talents on display for the nation to see, and he is not disappointing. His bio on Washington’s website highlights some of his career achievements in the Pacific northwest.
I watched his game against Colorado in 2013, and this year’s game against Hawaii, and identified some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Like Wilfork, Shelton is a large human being who will constantly demand the attention of two blockers due to his size and strength. Even double-teamed, Shelton was able to disrupt plays, even if he wasn’t able to get the tackle himself. Here, by attacking the guard and tackle, it allows the end to draw just the tight end, which frees the outside linebacker to come off the edge and tackle the back from behind.
While he won’t be outrunning many players, he does have enough burst to make plays from a variety of positions along the defensive line. Here, he lines out in a 4I technique (just inside of the tackle), and, despite jumping a bit, is able to adjust himself to peel off his block and tackle the quarterback upfield.
Here, Shelton is able to manhandle his blocker back into the pocket, forcing the quarterback to step up, allowing Shelton to disengage and get the easy sack.
When single blocked, instead of shedding the block and taking himself out of the play potentially, Shelton holds his ground until the back decides which hole he is going to run in. Then he sheds the blocker and makes a play on the back.
One of the most consistent parts of Shelton’s game is his constant effort. On this play, despite being blocked initially, instead of giving up on the play, Shelton keeps attacking and forces the pressure on the quarterback, which ends in an errant throw.
His on field awareness is showcased here, where he is initially blocked, but reads the lineman’s movements and the quarterback’s eyes, and identifies the screen and makes a play.
Shelton’s strength is his biggest upside. This play highlights his ability to take an offensive lineman’s mistake and push him right back into the quarterback. The lineman doesn’t even have a chance to try and reestablish himself.
Even without a good pass rushing move, he keeps driving his feet and using his hands to stay disengaged with the offensive linemen, collapsing the pocket as he goes.
The problem is, when his feet stop moving, he doesn’t have great technique when trying to disengage from blockers on run plays. Here, his feet stop and the lineman gets his hands in place, and Shelton never has a chance to get the ball carrier.
Overall, I think Shelton has the size and strength to play as a starting defensive lineman in the NFL. He needs to improve on his techniques when engaged with blockers, and possibly adopt better pass rushing moves in order for him to be a three down lineman at the next level. He could be available near the end of the first round, but as always there is no way to predict any draft position at this point in time. He could become a top 15 pick, he may fall into the third round, nothing is for certain this early. That being said Shelton could be a good player the Patriots could use to add depth to a thin DL position.
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