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Defensive Position Rankings

“Round Robinson”: Shelton, Brown, and the Best D-Lineman from Clemson (Hint: it’s NOT Vic Beasley)

Defensive tackle isn’t the most glamorous position in football, but it’s an important one. Just ask the Dolphins, who dropped a contract north of $114 million with almost $60 million in guarantees in the very large lap of Ndamukong Suh this offseason. Having that anchor up the middle is worth it’s weight (literally) in gold.

NFL teams are always in search of the next dominant DT, especially those who need a quick fix for a leaky run D. No team struggled more against the ground game than the Browns, who attempted to redeem both their defense and their draft credibility by selecting a husky Huskie with the 12th overall pick.

 

Danny Shelton

After the colossal busts that were the rookie seasons of Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel, Cleveland opted to go the safer route in selecting Shelton out of Washington with their first of two first round picks this year.  What they got was a super productive space eater who should make an immediate impact along the front four, drawing comparisons to Vince Wilfork among others.

shelton_dannyProponents of Shelton will immediately point to his 93-tackle senior season as proof of what kind of impact and upside he possesses. For a D-Tackle to flirt with triple digits and finish second on the team, you can be sure activity and athleticism are two of the building blocks of his game. Shelton is indeed rangy, or at least as rangy as a 340-lb. behemoth can be. This was necessitated by the type of uptempo, spread offenses featured on the west coast. There might not be nearly as big a need to see Shelton go east and west now that he’s playing on Sundays.

Logic would dictate that he’ll have ample opportunity to get after the QB as a result. Those who take a quick glance at Shelton’s stats again might get excited about his 11.5 career sacks, including 9.0 in 2014. While those numbers look delicious for any interior lineman, I urge you to control your excitement. Shelton, to his credit, feasted on inferior competition the way you’d hope a physically superior talent would. In Washington’s 2014 non-conference slate, Shelton wrangled 6.0 sacks in a two-game span against Eastern Washington and Illinois, hardly world beaters.

A little quick math should tell you that Shelton posted just 3.0 sacks in his other 12 games (Washington played a rare 13 regular season games thanks to a date with Hawaii). There won’t be any FCS or mediocre Big-10 teams to take advantage of at the next level, so expecting above-average sack totals is simply wishful thinking.

-44dfae3dfc6a099aWhat you should be counting on is disruption. Those who play in leagues where tackles for loss (TFL) get you extra points might be intrigued by what Shelton does early on and consider him for a spot on your roster as the season wears on. I, for one, need to see him carve out a nice chunk of playing time before I do any full-on trusting.

The real winner here should be Karlos Dansby who, ironically, had the exact same number of tackles in 2014 as Shelton. The big man should be a magnet for double teams and should excel at maintaining his position against them. This will free up Dansby with more clean air and open lanes to the ball carrier. In the five previous seasons that Dansby suited up for all 16 games, he never had any less than 103 tackles. With Shelton leading the way, I would venture a guess that this year would be number six.

 

Malcom Brown

Speaking of the aforementioned Wilfork, New England found themselves with a major hole along their defensive front when they let the 11-year vet walk this offseason. Many wondered how they might fill the void, but no draft guru I can remember gave them a shot at landing one of the premier rookie DTs at the bottom of the first round. Once he slipped past Detroit at 28, the Pats were sure they had their plugger of the future.

For much of the draft buildup, it looked like Brown would go 10-15 picks sooner than where he actually was selected. Unlike Shelton, who projects more as a nose, Brown has more versatility to his game. Yes, he can be that physical presence right over the center, but he can also kick down the line and play the 3- or 5-technique. If there’s one thing we know about Belichick, it’s that he loves do-everything guys who he can move around.

Malcom-Brown-UCLA-2-2014-USATODAY-Sports-850x560Despite having less sacks last year than Shelton, Brown’s 6.5 sacks still led the Longhorns, the first time a DT could claim that feat in 30 years. For a guy that goes upwards of 320, there’s a surprising burst to his game. That suddenness combined with a adept use of his hands is a difficult combo for interior lineman to contend with. Brown will have a quickness advantage over most of the guards and centers he lines up over.

The downside for a man of his size is his lack of lower body power and, where Shelton excels taking on double teams, Brown still has to improve in this facet of his game. He won’t hold up with two guys leaning on him until he hits the weight room and improves his trunk strength. Brown will never be the run stuffing force Wilfork was, but he does have room for growth as he matures.

Brown will provide some pass rush upside from the middle. He’ll also see the field on all three downs and will benefit from playing next to Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich among others. People don’t hate the Patriots because of Deflate-gate, AKA Balghazi. They hate them because moves like this continue to sustain a level of excellence we’ve had to become accustomed to over the last 12 years (ok, it might have a little something to do with deflating balls).

 

Grady Jarrett

As far as a sleeper DT goes, the name here shouldn’t come as much surprise. Jarrett had high grades from many draft experts. The shock was seeing him plummet all the way to day three of the draft, where the Falcons were more than happy to scoop him up in the fifth round. Not only did Jarrett make Pro Football Focus’ list of biggest draft steals, he topped it. And if you come looking for inflammatory opinions, I’m more than happy to ship one your way right here:

Grady Jarrett will go down as the best player from Clemson drafted by the Falcons in 2015.

It sounds a little specific, but basically I’m saying that Jarrett will outperform his college teammate Vic Beasley in ATL. This reflects my belief in Jarrett’s ability and motor, but also allows me the opportunity to tell you Beasley will end up as the biggest bust in this year’s top-10. I just don’t see enough power in his game to measure up on the outside, even if speed and quickness are his calling cards. The recent history of Tiger pass rushers doesn’t do anything to help Beasley’s cause, either.

B9317205174Z_1_20150502160531_000_GMMAM0P4C_1-0Back to Jarrett, his physical attributes are what led to his draft day free fall. At just a hair over six feet tall and 300 pounds, he never really fit the prototype for 3-4 teams looking to fill a need at NT. A penetrating 4-3 team, one Dan Quinn hopes to build in Atlanta, will be able to use Jarrett as a 1-gap penetrator that can use his quickness and leverage to attack gaps and wreak havoc in the backfield.

Jarrett’s usage will be selective at first. Quinn will insert him into the rotation and don’t be surprised to see him on the field in passing situations. This is a guy who registered 37 career QB pressures and 29.5 TFL while at Clemson. Something tells me, despite his size, that there’s NFL-caliber production to be mined here. PFF might have already anointed him as the steal of the draft, but it won’t mean a thing until Jarrett validates that praise and proves that 31 other teams missed the boat multiple times by passing him up.

 

 

 

 

 

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