Browns’ Danny Shelton: Defensive terror in the making
The Cleveland Browns have drafted their share of questionable first-rounders since the team’s return to the NFL in 1999, but Danny Shelton is here to burn that trend to the ground.
The 6-foot-2, 339-pound nose tackle out of Washington has arguably been the team’s finest defender in camp, drawing rave reviews from all corners as a wide-bodied, run-stuffing terror.
The No. 12 overall pick made his presence felt in this week’s joint practice sessions with the Buffalo Bills. Just ask Buffalo’s veteran center, Eric Wood, who found himself on the receiving end of Shelton’s fury during drills:
Shelton’s play inspired Bills coach Rex Ryan to seek out the rookie and tell him, per Kevin Jones of the Browns‘ official website: “I watched the film, and man, I love the way you hustle!”
“Man, he’s a big guy,” Bills guard Richie Incognito said after battling Shelton in Tuesday’s session. “He takes up so much space. He’s got a good foundation. He’s strong.”
When we attended Browns practice last week, Shelton stood out as an eye-popping visual presence. His lower body is insane, with calves the size of tree trunks and a compact, powerful frame that seems like it would prohibit the rookie from quick movement. Instead, his burst off the line and high motor serve as the most hopeful story coming out of Cleveland’s camp.
Shelton’s speed wowed coaches and teammates during an intrasquad scrimmage in Columbus, where the behemoth burned across the field to chase down wideout Marlon Moore.
“It was amazing,” Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor said, per The Associated Press. “A lot of people don’t think 345-pound-plus guys can run to the ball, but they’re wrong.”
Labeled by some before the draft as a two-down thumper, Shelton looks like an every-snap terror for a defense that used this offseason to fix a defense that finished last in the NFL against the run in 2014.
Shelton is a sight for sore eyes in Cleveland, where the Browns have ranked no higher than 18th against the run since returning to the NFL in 1999. Everybody talks about the decades-long quarterback void, but shoddy run-stoppage has been a quiet cancer from the start. Consider that Cleveland has finished 27th or worse in that category in 13 of the past 16 seasons.
“Danny Shelton changes the math — he takes on two offensive linemen every time,” Browns inside linebacker Karlos Dansby told Jones. “Usually you get a one-on-one situation. But you have to put two people on him. If you put one guy on him, it’s going to be hard to get a first down if you do.”
Regularly one of the first players to hit the practice field, Shelton came out of last week’s preseason debut against the Washington Redskins wanting to “play more violently,” saying: “I feel more prepared now. I feel more prepared for my second game (Thursday night against the Bills).”
“I have to be different from the norm,” Shelton told The AP. “I challenge myself to come out every day with positive energy. If I have to fake it or bring it up and just get everybody hyped up, I have to do that. My teammates know what type of guy I am. I have to continue to be on that same track.”
More than just a run-stopper, Shelton this week plowed his way into Buffalo’s backfield during 11-on-11s for what would have been a sack on mobile signal-caller Tyrod Taylor.
In the Redskins game, the rookie showed off his power on a Washington run up the middle that found Shelton matched up with veteran center Kory Lichtensteiger. Shelton threw off Lichtensteiger in time to cut down running back Alfred Morris for a short pickup. Calling the game for the Browns, NFL Media’s Solomon Wilcots said: “It’s not going to happen on Danny Shelton‘s watch.”
Reviewing all of his 16 snaps against the Redskins, I see a player who regularly pushes blockers backward, using his wide base to hold his ground. He’s powerful enough to neutralize linemen and quick enough to pivot and dive at ball-carriers. In the second clip below (at the :31 mark), watch Shelton detach from a blocker to pounce at the feet of Robert Griffin III. It’s no coincidence that Dansby is free to shut down the quarterback with Shelton controlling the line.
“You don’t find a lot of nose tackles that can make tackles five, six yards downfield,” said Wilcots, echoing Paul Kruger, the Browns pass rusher who called Shelton “a little different skillset and body type, but the one thing you can compare is the power and the ability to move at that size.”
“He is obviously a big boy who can move and having that presence there pushing the pocket,” said Kruger, per ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi. “In that way, he is really comparable to Haloti Ngata and some of the other guys who have really made a name for themselves pushing the pocket like that. I think he has that ability.”