The New England Patriots currently have 89 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on September 1 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the offseason, we take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s offseason acquisitions.
Name: Danny Shelton
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: 71
Opening day age: 25
Size: 6’2, 345 lbs.
2017 review: Entering his third year with the Cleveland Browns, Danny Shelton was again locked in as a starter along the team’s defensive line. While primarily an early down player whose strengths lie predominately in the running game, the former first-round draft selection still saw plenty of action in all 14 of the games in which he was active (he missed a game each because of separate calf and chest injuries).
Overall, Shelton played 43.7% of Cleveland’s defensive snaps (467 of 1,068) in 2017 and finished the year with 33 tackles – five of them for loss of yardage, and all of them against the run. His statistics reflect his usage as a role player in early down and short yardage packages that had only a limited impact against the pass. That being said, Shelton played his role as well as any big-bodied run stuffer in the league.
As such, he helped the Browns defensive front be one of the NFL’s stoutest against the run: opposing teams were able to rush for only 3.3 yards per carry up the middle, where Shelton was used most of the time. His season can therefore still be seen as a successful one even though the Browns went 0-16, and he again failed to improve as a pass rusher and live up to the expectations that come with being a top-15 draft pick.
2018 preview: In March, the Patriots traded their third-round draft pick to the Browns to acquire Shelton and a fifth-round selection. The team’s investment makes the soon-to-be 25-year old a lock to make the team. The main questions entering the 2018 season therefore are related to his usage and whether or not he can finally take the long-anticipated next step as a player in a new environment and contract year.
While it would be a surprise to see Shelton suddenly turn into an interior pass rusher, New England will likely not shy away from giving him opportunities to prove his value in that area. However, the Washington product will still see most of his action against the ground game: together with fellow 2015 first-rounder Malcom Brown, Shelton will form one of the NFL’s best defensive tackle duos when it comes to stopping the run.
In that role, he is projected to play between 40% and 50% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps and usually come off the field during later downs and in passing situations. If such a usage qualifies him for a contract extension after or during the season remains to be seen, but for 2018 Shelton should play a key role in helping New England solidify what was an inconsistent run defense last season.