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Is Danny Shelton the missing link on defense

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Looking at a nose tackle to see if he's the answer on defense

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Every year there's a case study to on a college player having a ton of production and how that translates to the NFL. Melvin Gordon was a good example. Washington's Danny Shelton is another prime example. Here is how he measured in at the Senior Bowl.

Player School Height Weight Arm Length Hands
Danny Shelton Washington 6'1 3/4 343 31.75" 10"

Hand Usage

For a player his size, Shelton displays some pretty good hand usage. While his arms may be shorter, he does a good job of extending them and making plays at the line of scrimmage. In the 4 games I charted, Shelton picked up 12 "stops." Shelton's go to was winning with an arm over. That wasn't what I was most impressed by. It was his bull rush. When he fired off the line and used his power, he could walk the center into the quarterback easily.

I would've like to see him rely on power more.

Run Defense

Shelton excels at defending the run in about a 3-4 yard area. If it's a run right at him, chances are he hold up blockers or get off of his block to finish the play. He's incredibly strong and when he plays powerful, he can be unblock able. Check out some of his 1-on-1 drills from the Senior Bowl from Joe Goodberry, his power is real.

The issues with Shelton as a run defender is he will pop straight up out of his stance and "dance" with the offensive lineman instead of engaging him. Once he loses his leverage, like with most players, he can get washed out pretty easily. Him popping starting up leads to Shelton getting pushed back initially much more than you'd expect from a man his size. I jotted down once that he hustled down the line of scrimmage to make a tackle, but I don't know that I can really fault him for that. You want your nose tackle to make plays in that 3-4 yard area, and that's what Shelton does.

Against the Pass

It's easy to look at Shelton's 9 sacks and think he's a lights out pass rusher. Well 4 of those came against Eastern Washington, 2 of them came when the QB ran right into him, and another came after 2 teammates had missed sack opportunities. I mentioned Shelton's arm over. He can be very effective with this. It's nice and quick.

Getting Shelton to push the pocket is a win for any edge rusher, that's something he can do. Winning like the above vine is a bonus.

Consistency

The biggest problem I had with Shelton is consistency. I understand that defensive lineman aren't going to win even half of their battles, but Shelton disappeared for quarters at a time. You'd like to see a guy who many tout as a top 10 player in this class to show up more than 2-3 times in a 60-70 play stretch. I noted Shelton "disappears too much", "didn't make plays consistently", "no where to be found in the 2nd half." I'd like to see Shelton counter more when he's not winning initially.

That last quote brings me to my next point. It's one of the bigger concerns I have with Shelton. Not only are you taking a guy that will likely play 35% of the time at most early on, but most of his production came in the 1st half. Take for example, the Oregon game. He was leaning on offensive lineman throughout the 2nd half of the game. The same can be said against Illinois and Cal. Shelton has been compared to "freaks" like Haloti Ngata or Donatri Poe, he's not that type of player. Those guys play at a high level for 80% of the game.

Grade

Multiple Pro Bowl Player, Top 10 8.5 – 9.0
Highly Productive Starter, 1st Round 8.0 – 8.4
Very Good Starter, Early 2nd Round 7.8 – 7.9
Reliable Starter, 2nd Round 7.5 – 7.7
Potential Starter in Year 2, 3rd Round 7.0 – 7.4
Backup/Spot Starter, 4th Round 6.5 – 6.9
Productive Backup, 5th Round 6.0 – 6.4
Very Good Backup/STs, 6th Round 5.5 – 5.9
Quality Backup/Good STs, 7th Round 5.0 – 5.4
Backup/STs/Project Player, 7th Round 4.5 – 4.9
Priority Free Agent w/ Limitations 4.0 – 4.4
Non-Draftable 4.0

Trait Weight Grade
Hand Usage 4 3.6
Run Defense 3 2.8
Speed Rush 3 2.4
Power Rush 3 2.7
Strength 2 1.9
Atleticism 2 1.6
First Step 2 1.6
Tackling 2 1.8
Versatility 2 1
Motor 2 1.5

Shelton grades out to a 7.52, or a late 2nd round talent. His value takes a hit when you consider his lack of versatility and motor. When watching Shelton I didn't get the same energy from a big guy like say, Timmy Jernigan from last year. Shelton brings great power and is a very good run defender who can contribute in the passing game. He does have issues that I fear will limit him from living up to where he'll be drafted.

How He Fits as a Charger

Shelton would be an upgrade over nose tackle Sean Lissemore. He's a better finisher, is more powerful, and does a better job of disengaging. His versatility hurts because he won't be able to play up and down the line of scrimmage like some other defensive lineman on the team. Then we must factor in value. Will Shelton be the best player available at 17? Not a chance. Will he even be the best player available at 49? Maybe. That's right around where his value will lie in my opinion, but he'll likely be long gone by then. Would Shelton be a nice addition? Sure. However, he's not this second coming of Haloti Ngata that the media is making him out to be.