Patriots Draft Spotlight: Danny Shelton

The Patriots are facing the reality that Vince Wilfork may not have much time left in New England, be it his high cap number or just overall age. It is crucial that New England finds an heir apparent to their monstrous leader, and 6'2, 340 pound Danny Shelton of Washington looks like a prospect who could fill that role.

The New England Patriots run a 3/4-4/3 hybrid defense, so it is crucial that they have a traditional nose tackle that can handle the A-gaps. When the Patriots won in '01, it was rookie Richard Seymour who dominated in the nose tackle role. In '03, the Patriots made a trade for one of the largest men in the history of football, Ted Washington. In '04, the Patriots got extremely lucky when University of Miami nose tackle Vince Wilfork slipped to them at 21. That Godsend led to another Super Bowl in '04, two trips in '07 and '11, and another win in '14. Notice the theme? The Patriots need a dominating and smart nose tackle to run their scheme, so replacing Wilfork isn't that easy. Danny Shelton of Washington looks like a prospect that can not only fill Wilfork's role, he might have another dimension as a pass rusher.

Danny Shelton has excelled on the football field since he was a freshman in high school. Shelton attended Auburn High School in Washington, a school known for producing excellent lineman. Shelton was First-Team All State his junior and senior season and both years was also named the South Puget Offensive and Defensive Lineman of the Year. Shelton was ranked the #32 defensive tackle in the United States by and rated #120 overall by Shelton proved in college that he was worthy of a higher rating by both publications, and now he is projected to be a first round pick in the NFL Draft. If anything, he has proven to be a top 30 prospect OVERALL from the class of 2010. Shelton is also a well-rounded athlete, winning the shot-put state title his senior year and also excelling on the wrestling team.

Many expected Shelton to red-shirt his freshman year, but he ended up playing in all 13 games, picking up 11 tackles (two unassisted, nine assisted), two passes defended and one fumble recovery. Shelton earned his first start vs. hated rival Washington State and had his best game of the season vs. Baylor in the Alamo Bowl, picking up five tackles. Shelton showed the ability to make plays consistently when he received more playing time and that gave the coaching staff and Shelton a lot of confidence going into his sophomore year.

2012 was a breakout year for Shelton. He started every game, compiling 45 tackles (20 unassisted, 25 assisted), four tackles for loss, one fumble recovery, one pass blocked, two quarterback hits, and half a sack. Shelton was All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention and was also All-Academic first team. One thing that scouts were beginning to notice was Shelton's ability to step up against better competition. Shelton had 10 tackles vs. #3 ranked LSU, three tackles, two for a loss vs. #11 ranked USC, five tackles and half a sack in the Apple Bowl vs. WSU, and then finishing strong with a four solo tackle game vs. Boise State in the MAACO Bowl.

2013 was more of the same from Shelton- steady improvement and excellent production, especially for an interior lineman. Shelton finished the season with 59 total tackles (36 unassisted, 23 assisted) 3.5 tackles for loss, three passes defended, two blocked passes, and two sacks. Shelton was once again able to garner Academic All-Pac-12 and honorable mention All-Pac-12. Shelton put together a few huge games, making six tackles vs. Arizona, 10 vs. UCLA, six tackles and half a sack vs. Colorado, and once again he had an excellent bowl game to end the season, making six solo tackles and one assisted vs. BYU. Every time Washington played a bowl game, Danny Shelton was one of the best players on the field.

For three years, Shelton showed the Pac-12 that he was talented and improving, but nobody expected the type of production he was going to provide in 2014. Shelton finished with 93 total tackles (53 solo, 40 assisted), 16.5 tackles for loss, five fumble recoveries, three quarterback hits, and NINE sacks. 93 tackles is an insane stat for an interior defensive lineman, not to mention the nine sacks he piled up. Shelton was simply dominant, picking up First Team All-America honors from USA Today, Second Team honors from Walter Camp and CBS Sports, First Team All-Pac-12, and First Team Academic All-Pac-12. Shelton was the first Washington player to be named All-Academic First Team since 1991 and he was also the only player in the country to make First Team All-American and First Team Academic-All-American. Shelton was a candidate for the Chuck Bednarik Award in 2014, but lost to Scooby Wright, the talented linebacker out of Arizona.

Shelton is compared to Wilfork for one reason- he plays a very similar game. Shelton has a very thick lower body and he knows how to use his raw strength to pass rush and also dominate in the run game. He has to be very careful to not put on to much weight, but NFL teams find a way (weight clauses) to keep guys from eating their way out of the league, so Shelton should be fine in that regard. Shelton has great feet and is very quick for a man of his stature and he also has a great motor, making hustle plays downfield on a regular basis. At the Senior Bowl, Shelton showed an array of pass rushing moves that gave the offensive lineman all types of problems. This strong showing at the combine may vault Shelton into the top 15, which would mean the Patriots would have to trade up to draft him. If the Patriots are facing a scenario where they have cut Wilfork and they know he isn't returning, targeting Shelton would make all the sense in the world and would be worth what it takes to trade up for him.

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