“This guy is so wide I think he can two-gap without moving.”
That is what I wrote about nose tackle Danny Shelton the first time I took a good look at him during New York Giants mandatory mini-camp a few weeks ago.
Can he, though, successfully help the Giants overcome the loss of nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson to the Minnesota Vikings in free agency?
Let’s discuss Shelton as we continue our player-by-player profiles of the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp this summer.
Age: Turns 28 in August
Position: Defensive tackle
Contract: One-year, $1.1275 million | Guaranteed: $987,5000 | 2021 cap hit: $987,500
Career to date
The Cleveland Browns drafted Shelton 12th overall in 2015. To select him that highly, the Browns obviously thought they were getting a player who was a game-changer. Perhaps they thought they were getting what the similarly-sized Dexter Lawrence appears on his way to becoming.
It did not work out that way.
Shelton had only 1.5 sacks and 7 quarterback hits in three seasons with Cleveland. His second season, which included those 1.5 sacks, 59 tackles, 42 stops and a career-best 82.1 Pro Football Focus grade was solid.
By the middle of his third season, though, the Browns were shopping Shelton. At the end of that third year, the Browns traded Shelton and a fifth-round pick to the New England Patriots in exchange for a third-round pick.
Shelton did little for the Patriots in 2018, with one quarterback hit and a career-low 21 tackles. He had the most productive season of his career, though, in 2019. Shelton had 3.0 sacks, tied his career-best with 6 quarterback hits, had 26 stops and a career-best 61 tackles.
Shelton parlayed that into a two-year, $8 million contract with the Detroit Lions. After posting career worsts in overall PFF grade (51.1) and run defense grade (44.9) Shelton was cut by Detroit in a salary cap move.
Shelton signed a one-year, $1.275 million contract with the Giants.
Shelton, of course, is a Giant because Dalvin Tomlinson is not. In combination with Austin Johnson and perhaps Dexter Lawrence, Shelton will be charged with anchoring the middle of the Giants’ defense.
On its face, Tomlinson to Shelton is a clear downgrade. Shelton has reached journeyman status, now on his fourth team in his seventh season. He is coming off a poor season in Detroit. Tomlinson is coming off a fourth straight solid year that earned him a two-year, $21 million contract with $20.8 million guaranteed.
For nearly $20 million less in guaranteed money — money the Giants used to keep Leonard Williams and add other players — can Shelton and Co. do enough to make the Giants right in their decision to move on from Tomlinson?
Shelton likely won’t play as many snaps as Tomlinson did. Tomlinson averaged 617.5 snaps over the past four seasons. Over that same time period, Shelton averaged 445.5 snaps. That is why there is likely to be an increased role for Johnson, and perhaps increased time at nose tackle for Lawrence.
Shelton is a regarded as a run stuffer, a player who takes on double teams in an effort to allow linebackers like Blake Martinez space to make plays. Over the past couple of seasons, he has not been nearly as effective in that role as Tomlinson. In 2019, Tomlinson was ranked as the No. 13 run defender among 72 qualifying interior defensive linemen. Shelton was No. 60. Shelton did make more splash plays, with a “stop” percentage of 8.5 to Tomlinson’s 7.7. Last season, Tomlinson was 23rd vs. the run and Shelton 69th among 73 qualifiers, per PFF.
Tomlinson has 7.0 sacks (3.5 each year) and 42 quarterback pressures over the past two seasons. Shelton had 4.0 of his 5.5 career sacks and 32 pressures over that span, obviously in fewer snaps. In 2020, Tomlinson was 34th and Shelton 94th among 129 interior defensive linemen in pass rush productivity.
There is, obviously, a gap in productivity from Tomlinson to Shelton. The Giants are simply counting on the combination of Shelton and Johnson, along with the collective pieces they gathered with the money they would have spent on Tomlinson, to make that move worthwhile.