Defensive lineman Danny Shelton was the 12th pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2015 draft. The massive nose tackle from the University of Washington possesses some very unique skills. He has always been compared to Vince Wilfork because of his unique blend of size and agility for a nose tackle.
But Shelton’s play in his first season was one dimensional. He was considered a plugger, purely a run stopper. The main reason for that was because of his commitment to the game. According to Shelton, his weight had ballooned near the 350-360 mark in 2015 and that was the main reason he only played 47.9% of the Browns defensive snaps. Shelton finished the 2015 season with 27 tackles, 13 assists, 19 stops and 8 QB hurries. He was unable to record a single sack.
The team and new defensive coordinator Ray Horton saw so much more potential from Shelton. After discussions with staff, Shelton wanted to change himself and that started with his weight. Shelton said the reduced weight is simply a matter of health.
“Just playing at this weight will be better for me as far as being on the field more, getting more playing time, and then for my lifestyle,” he said. “Be better on my knees and for my health, really.”
His commitment to being slimmer and healthier has catapulted his play to another level. Much like Horton stated, Shelton has been a “big part of the Browns defensive plans”, and that is because he is now able to stay on the field longer.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) December 16, 2016
Shelton has been able to play 67% of the snaps on defense and those snaps have been effective. With his weight down, Shelton is now more than just a plugger. He has another level of quickness and can easier maneuver laterally down the line of scrimmage.
Horton has used the big guy all across the line. On this play, Shelton is the the nose tackle and he is tilted. Tilting the nose makes it much more difficult for pro bowl center Travis Frederick reach block him in their zone blocking scheme. Frederick is unable to gain leverage, Shelton moves laterally down the line of scrimmage and brings down Morris once he commits upfield.
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Center Ryan Groy will definitely have his hands full this week. Groy has done a great job of filling in for Eric Wood, specifically pulling. But will he be able to control Shelton when they want to run downhill? Even though he lost weight, Shelton did not lose a bit of strength. In fact, he looks stronger.
The Cowboys try running a gap run. This requires Frederick to block down on Shelton. The center is quick enough but doesn’t have the power or leverage to withstand the strength of Shelton.
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The read by Shelton paired with his 34 rep bench press help blow this play up.
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The 335-pound defensive tackle is one of the best run defenders in the game. He currently has 36 run stops which is second in the NFL behind Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison and in front of Ndamakong Suh. It is because of his recognition and power.
“I have made the comment, he may be the smartest defensive lineman – for sure nose tackle – I think I have ever been around and ever heard of as far as understanding offensive sets and formations and having the ability to see what is around him rather than just the guard and center combination. Extremely brilliant as far as football is concerned.” Ray Horton
Shelton is lined up at a 3 technique defensive alignment. On the snap, he quickly recognizes the guard pulling while the tackle is going to block down.
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He immediately strikes the left shoulder with his right hand, swims over the top and chases the back down.
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“He’s really, really bright, intelligent, very outgoing.” Ray Horton
The intelligence pops out on film, whether he is reading the linemans’ blocking intentions or just using his technique. On this play, Shelton stacks then gets his eyes on the running back. As Murray is running his ‘track’ Shelton is using his leverage to his advantage. The lineman wants to turn Shelton with his left arm, but is unable to. Danny pokes his head in the weak A gap.
This makes Murray stay play side, so when the back is fully committed, Shelton sheds and latches onto the back. Perfect execution of two-gapping in an odd front.
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Shelton is still improving as a pass rusher. In 2015 he only compiled eight total pressures, through 13 games this season he has a total of 14. Two of which are sacks, one QB hit and 11 QB hurries.
But his pass rush productivity this season of a 4.4% is a slight improvement upon 2015’s 2.8% and as he becomes more and more comfortable reading pass protections and utilizing pass rush moves his game will make another jump.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1Bills) December 15, 2016
Danny Shelton may be the Browns most talented player on the defense, a defense that is one of the youngest in the league. But as he and the rest of Cleveland’s defenders grow together under a very talented coach and scheme I expect Shelton to continue to blossom. His 43 solo tackles and 39 stops are both second in the NFL for defensive tackles and that rests solely on his commitment to being a pro.