CFF Player Profile: Danny Shelton, DI
The 2015 draft has a small number of players before the talent seems to drop and plateau beyond the end of the first round. One such player, in our eyes, is Washington interior defensive lineman Danny Shelton.
A monster of a man at 339 pounds, Shelton played well enough in 2014 that we believe he’s the best player on the defensive interior available in this draft, even ahead of the highly-rated Leonard Williams from USC. What makes Shelton so impressive in our eyes, is that for as big a player as he is physically, we think he can be so much more than the 0-technique nose tackle so many have him pegged as.
Overview and Stats
Our third-highest graded defensive tackle in this draft class, Shelton excelled as an all-around player in the middle of the Huskies’ defensive line in 2014. One of the first things that stands out about Shelton is how much he played last year. I remember early in the year feeling like he looked tired late in games and considering this a massive knock on him, but when I looked at the numbers at the end of the year, he’d played 958 snaps including the senior bowl. That’s a huge amount of snaps for anyone, let alone a 339-pound defensive tackle, so it’s no wonder that he looked a little tired at points.
Despite that high usage, Shelton had just one negatively-graded game all year (the Senior Bowl), and routinely overpowered and outmatched opposing offensive linemen repeatedly during games. That helped him finish the year grading positively against the run and as a pass rusher, where he registered 10 sacks, 11 hits and 27 quarterback hurries. Shelton even dropped into coverage on a few rare occasions, and did a good job chasing down screen passes, which saw him produce a positive grade in coverage, too. Here’s how that all compared to his fellow defensive tackles from this draft class during the 2014 season:
It’s easy to see why Shelton is seen by many as a true nose tackle, and it’s hard not to pigeon hole him given the size he brings to the table, offering teams a huge physical presence in the middle of the defensive line. However that’s doing him a bit of a disservice, as the way he played last season showed that he could be even more productive in a role where he’s asked to be more disruptive.
As a 0-tech nose tackle he shows what you want to see on film. He is very tough to move, even with double teams, stopping opposing offensive linemen from being able to get to the second level and helping to keep his linebackers clean. Beyond that, he impressed when squeezing the point of attack, narrowing the lanes available to running backs.
What stands out that makes him more than that, however, is how well he sheds blocks. Using his hands to disengage from blockers, he stayed active and forced his way into the backfield plenty of times. That included his best game of the season against Arizona, where he had five solo tackles resulting in defensive stops, giving him a Run Stop Percentage of 17.2%.
To be a disruptive force in the NFL it will take more than all of that, but Shelton also brings with him some really nice footwork. Especially for someone his size, his ability to beat opposing offensive linemen with a quick first step and some nimble footwork really stands out.
The one concern with Shelton is his consistency. He played a ludicrous amount of snaps for a defensive linemen, and it’s unlikely he’ll see that much in the NFL, but you are taking a little bit of a gamble that it was the high number of snaps that caused him to look a little tired, and not that he was taking plays off. Still, he was highly productive despite that, so it’s not too much of a stretch to think that the high snap count was the primary reason for it.
It’s obvious that Shelton has the size that many teams look for in a nose tackle, but is that where he fits best in the NFL? He’s so active with his hands and feet that it really feels like he could be a special player if he’s allowed to attack. It’s interesting that in this draft class Leonard Williams is considered the disruptive force and Shelton the solid run defender, when we feel that the opposite is true. He projects well as an NFL player regardless, but I’ll be excited to see Shelton with a team that give him a little bit of freedom to go after and terrorize opposing offensive linemen.
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon