Since Sojourn Shelton stepped foot on Wisconsin’s campus as an early enrollee he has been counted on to help make sure Wisconsin has one of the best secondary units in the Big Ten. Shelton certainly has helped do his part over the last three seasons, as Wisconsin has not finished lower than third in pass defense in the Big Ten during Shelton’s tenure. Losing three starters off last year’s unit, the effectiveness that Wisconsin’s secondary has played with might be difficult to replicate. But the Badgers have Shelton, who has made 37 career starts and has appeared in 40 games going into his final season.
Stats: 29 tackles (20 solo), one interception, seven pass breakups, and one forced fumble in 2015.
Strengths: Shelton is rarely beaten off the line of scrimmage and can use his quickness to help him recover. Using good technique in coverage and taking the proper angles to give himself a chance to make a play on the ball, Shelton does a good job of being able to read the quarterback and knowing where the football is on the field. After being highly penalized as a sophomore, Shelton lowered his combative penalties last season and played more sound in his assignments. Never really lacking self confidence in his play, Shelton has the needed “short memory” as a corner to forget about any plays that don’t go his way, something that hopefully will rub off on some of his younger teammates.
Weaknesses: Shelton’s 5-9 size hasn’t been a big issue over his career, especially having bigger safeties – like Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy – working over the top of him. Shelton won’t have that luxury this coming season, as the safety spot will be short on experience and not have as much height. That means Shelton has to stay sound in his technique and be expected to shut down his side of the field. Shelton also needs to get better at finishing interceptions, as there’s been a handful of intercepted passes over the last two seasons he hasn’t been able to come down with.
Why he’s #3: Shelton survived a sophomore slump to bounce back in a big way, making it tough on opposing receivers to make lengthy receptions against him. With Shelton being the lone returning starter, and having more experience than virtually anyone else on the roster, it will be important for him to play consistent and well in order to influence the other members of Wisconsin’s secondary. Shelton will be matched up against the other team’s top weapon on a weekly basis, so bringing anything less than his ‘A’ game could be trouble for the back end of the defense.
Overall: Shelton has dealt with his struggles during his time at Wisconsin but how he played last season makes it seem that he is trending upward. Wisconsin’s defense has been dominant over the last two years, but UW’s schedule this season is daunting. Making positive strides with his play during the spring under first year defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard, Shelton will need to be able to pick up where he left off in spring practice and continue being a playmaker for Wisconsin’s defense. His play and his leadership will be key to making sure the secondary doesn’t have a significant drop off in pass coverage.