The New England Patriots, who are currently in their middle of their 2019 training camp, have 90 players on their active roster at the moment. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s defensive linemen.
Name: Danny Shelton
Position: Defensive tackle
Jersey number: 71
Opening day age: 26
Size: 6’2, 345 lbs.
2018 review: Coming off an 0-16 season, the Cleveland Browns decided to move on from former twelfth overall draft pick Danny Shelton. The big-bodied defensive tackle was put on the trade block and subsequently acquired in mid-March by New England: the Patriots sent a third-round draft choice to the Browns to acquire Shelton as well as a fifth-round selection — essentially making him a lock to be on the 53-man roster.
Shelton was indeed and figured prominently as the fourth member of the team’s rotation at defensive tackle. He appeared in thirteen of the Patriots’ regular season games in this role, missing three games over the second half of the year as a healthy scratch. Entering the playoffs, Shelton had been on the field for 324 of a possible 1,043 defensive snaps (31.1%) as well as 98 more on special teams (of 453; 21.6%).
When on the field, Shelton saw regular action against both the pass and the run but primarily filled the role of a run-stuffer up the middle — one that the team missed during its late season losses in Pittsburgh and even more prominently Miami. As such, he served not only as a complement to fellow big tackle and former 2015 first-round draft pick Malcom Brown, but also as a vital member of New England’s early-down run defense and short-yardage packages.
In terms of usage, the playoffs were a microcosm of Shelton’s first year with the Patriots: he sat out the AFC Championship Game despite being healthy, and saw irregular action during the other two contests. All in all, he played just 23 of a possible 188 defensive snaps (12.2%) and was on the field for 4 snaps in the kicking game (of 92; 4.3%) to resume his role as a member of New England’s field goal and extra point blocking units.
Shelton’s 2018 season was a success in the grand scheme of things — he literally went from worst to first — but his individual performance and statistical output were average at best: he registered 20 tackles in the running game, with 4 of them going for either a loss or no yardage gained, and had 5 quarterback disruptions (1 hit, 4 hurries) on his résumé. He was a serviceable member of the defense but did never really stand out.
2019 preview: Two months after the Patriots had originally acquired Shelton, the team decided to not exercise the fifth-year option in his rookie contract. As a result, the defender was scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency in March 2019 — which is exactly what happened after New England made little effort to sign him to a long-term deal. Other teams were also reluctant to go after the 25-year-old despite his draft pedigree.
As a result, he remained on the open market until late May when the Patriots brought him back on a one-year deal worth $1.0 million. The contract does include little guaranteed money, however, which reflects Shelton’s status as a player on the roster bubble: if he does not stand out during training camp and preseason, the team will be able to move on with little actual resources invested in re-signing him in the first place.
So far, Shelton appears to be on his way to making the team, however. He saw regular practice reps as a nose tackle in the team’s 3-4 packages and appears to be the top big-tackle option currently on the roster behind free agency acquisition Mike Pennel. It would therefore not be a surprise to see Shelton make the team again and play a similar rotational role like the one he held during the 2018 season.