Washington's Danny Shelton has a blend of strength, agility and energy that could make him one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL.
With the 2015 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.
As we move into the mid-teens, potential franchise players start to exert themselves with authority. And in Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton, some NFL team is going to get the kind of lineman you can build an entire defense around. Shelton improved his tackle totals in all four seasons with the Huskies—from 11 to 45 to 59 to 93—and his 93-tackle season is where he really took off as a top-level draft prospect. Shelton finished his senior campaign with nine sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss as well, and dominated during Senior Bowl week to put a cap on his collegiate resume.
"I committed to my teammates at the University of Washington that I'd be that guy to bring energy," Shelton said at the scouting combine. "I felt that it really helped me with production this past season. So there's no reason not to continue with that."
There's no question that he can. The only question is where his NFL team will place him, unleashing a torrent of trouble for enemy offenses.
Bio: Several of Washington's defensive players, including Shelton, Marcus Peters, Shaq Thompson and Hau'oli Kikaha, have shown that they're ready for the NFL in varying degrees, but Shelton has become the star of that group. It's not often that you see a 6'2", 339-pound tackle move to the sideline with his level of speed, and the stats he put up in 2014 had people wondering what kind of player Shelton could be at the next level. Shelton was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 player in his sophomore and junior seasons, but vaulted to AP All-American honors last season. Shelton finished his collegiate career with 208 tackles, 11.5 sacks and 24 tackles for loss, while starting every game in his last three seasons.
Strengths: Shelton's a big man who's very hard to move when he's on point with his leverage. He plays two-gap nose tackle and one-tech shade primarily, but he could be used effectively all the way out to the end position, depending on scheme. Shelton's most startling attribute is his speed and agility in short spaces—he'll break off blocks at the line and tear after a running back or screen pass receiver and meet him at the sideline. He has gap-shooting capabilities, especially when he times holes in slide protection. He's a true three-down tackle—versatile and effective enough to avoid being rotated out—and his combination of power and athleticism makes him an asset in just about any scheme.
Weaknesses: Blockers who engage Shelton can do so because he fails to consistently use rip and swim moves to get free. He tends to wrestle and dance too much as opposed to using his hands to push through a block. Six of his nine sacks last season came against sub-par competition—Hawaii and Eastern Washington—and he probably won't put up those kinds of numbers in the NFL. As his snap counts increase, he will play higher off the ball and start to lose leverage. Weight has been an issue at times, and he ran a 5.64 40-yard dash with a 1.9 10-yard split at the scouting combine (slowest 10-yard split of any defensive lineman), though he plays faster than that. Gets so involved in pursuit at times that he'll blow assignments up the middle.
Conclusion: In 2012, Chris Brown of Smart Football and Grantland wrote about the "War Daddies", or true hybrid tackles who could align in ways that set the tempo for everyone around them, making defenses great with scheme and personnel. At his best, Shelton has proven that he can be one of those players with his rare blend of strength and agility. Whether he's bulling offensive linemen off their stances or hauling off to the edge to deal with an outside runner or screen receiver, Shelton has all the attributes to be one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. He's probably not as much of a pure pass-rusher as his stats would indicate, but that's not where his potential greatness lies. Danny Shelton will be great in the way he can set the tone for a front seven at any level.