2015 NFL draft: September’s player of month

Washington’s Danny Shelton has been asked to perform different responsibilities on the Huskies’ defensive line and has been doing them all at a high level.

Danny Shelton


>Nose Guard/Defensive Tackle
University of Washington Huskies
#55
6:01.1-339
Auburn, Washington
Auburn High School

OVERVIEW

For three seasons under head coach Steve Sarkisian and his defensive coordinators, Nick Holt and Justin Wilcox, Shelton knew his station in life. As the Huskies’ nose tackle, he was assigned the daunting task of occupying multiple blockers long enough to make other Husky defenders “look good” by making the big play. His teammates would celebrate after delivering that big hit, but Shelton rarely got to join, as he was usually the one clogging the rush lanes or creating the pile in the middle of the field.

The senior was brought along slowly by his first defensive coordinator, Nick Holt, who stationed the true freshman behind weak-side defensive tackle Alameda Ta’amu for most of the 2011 campaign. Injuries and Shelton’s performances in practices and with the first unit earned him a pair of starting assignments at the strong-side tackle position, to close out his rookie season.

Justin Wilcox replaced Holt as Washington’s defensive coordinator in 2012. His first decision was to make Shelton his starting nose tackle, a position the coach felt would show his sophomore lineman at his best, calling the Auburn High School product an incredibly impressive run stuffer and someone who can penetrate and make plays.

Shelton demonstrated that he had all of the ability to do the job, do it at a high level and do it consistently, but he had to make the necessary adjustments to do it. Instead of being the player attacking the backfield on every play, he was asked to park along the line of scrimmage and take on multiple defenders.

Playing inside, he would align at the zero-, one- and two-techniques, depending on the alignment and the situation called for on each individual play. Wilcox reasoned that his nose tackle was so problematic enough for opponents and so disruptive firing off the snap that he could alter the opponents’ game plan, especially when it came to short-yardage situations.

Opposing offensive coordinators soon realized Shelton was an immovable object that was best being avoided, rather than run plays directly at him. Before Shelton had joined the starting lineup, teams averaged 453.31 yards per game vs. the Huskies in 2011. With the sophomore manning the middle, opponents were often running their plays outside directly or showing inside and faking to the outside to try to pick up the yardage needed.

By the end of the 2012 schedule, Washington’s defense had allowed just 357.38 yards per contest. What made Shelton’s performance even more impressive was the fact that he started all 13 games, despite playing most of the schedule with a broken bone in his hand, along with some lingering hamstring issues. He was recognized as an All-Pac 12 Conference performer, both on the field and in the class room, in addition to receiving his team’s Academic Achievement Award.

Wilcox began to freelance with Shelton more often during the player’s junior season, but had yet to tap into the Samoan’s vast potential. The consummate team player, Shelton again “took out the garbage” along the front wall, but the consummate team player wanted to contribute more. He had enjoyed considerable success in high school and during his UW sophomore year on special teams as a kick blocker. He continued in that role during the 2013 season, blocking two more kicks while causing havoc vs. the ground game.

Unknown to most, Shelton had played the 2013 schedule with a damaged left shoulder. He would undergo surgery in January 2014 and rededicated himself to further developing his raw power and athleticism. After lettering three times for the Huskies’ track team, the 2014 football off-season would be dedicated to gridiron work only.

The results have been remarkable, evident by his awesome performances during the early stages of the 2014 season. Having bulked up to 339 pounds, Shelton has been on a tear. He recently became just the sixth interior down lineman in school history to have recorded at least 10 tackles in a game three times during a season, accomplishing that impressive feat through his first four appearances.

While Shelton has racked up tackles at a record-pacing rate, he is well on his way to accomplishing a rare feat. The Husky senior, who had a bye this past weekend, entered the weekend leading the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks with seven quarterback sacks. If he continues to hold on to the top spot, he will become the first defensive tackle to ever lead the NCAA in that category.

Among those seven QB drops in 2014 is a four-sack performance that Shelton recorded in the Eastern Washington clash. That figure ranks third on the school game-record list and only Ron Holmes (five vs. Navy in 1983) had collected more sacks in a contest among Washington down linemen (linebacker Mark Stewart also posted five sacks, vs. UCLA in 1982).

Prior to playing for the University of Washington football and track programs, Shelton was a two-way standout for the Auburn High School Trojans, where he accounted for 15 sacks and 26.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage during his last 34 games on the gridiron. As a sophomore, Shelton delivered 58 tackles and had 4.5 sacks among eight stops-for-loss, helping head coach Gordon Elliott’s team compile an 11-0 record, capturing the SPSL-Class 4A district title with an undefeated mark (9-0) to finish ranked sixth in the state of Washington’s final public school poll.

In 2009, Shelton was an All-SPSL-4A choice, collecting 11 of his 55 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The Trojans ranked 13th in the state, recording another 11-1 record, including eight victories in district competition, as Shelton garnered South Puget Sound League Offensive and Defensive Lineman of the Year honors, as he was the only down lineman to earn first-team All-State accolades on both sides of the ball.

The 2010 season saw the Trojans slip to a 9-3 mark, including a 7-1 record in the district. Shelton amassed 56 tackles with 7.5 stops-for-loss as he was again selected Associated Press All-State Class 4A honors on both offense and defense. The two-time Seattle Times All-State choice was again named the SPSL’s Offensive and Defensive Lineman of the Year, the first player in Class 4A annals to capture both honors in multiple seasons.

The Prep Star All-American selection was rated the third-best overall recruit in the state of Washington and the tenth-best defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.com, earning four-star prospect status from that recruiting service. Scout.com rated him 32nd and ESPN placed him 43rd among the country’s prep defensive tackles.

Shelton was accorded Long Beach Press-Telegram's "Best in the West" honorable mention, and was named to the Tacoma News-Tribune's "Western 100" list of top recruits in the West. He was one of five seniors from the state named a "blue-chip prospect" by the Seattle Times, along with being one of just eight players from the Pacific Northwest named a "Northwest Nugget" by the Tacoma News-Tribune.

The multi-talented athlete also lettered in wrestling, but garnered as much national attention for his excellence as a weight man for the track team at Auburn High as he did on the football field.

As a senior in 2011, Shelton won the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association state shot put championship with a throw of 60’-1”. In fact, he would win nine of the 11 events that he participated in the shot that year.

Shelton would close out his senior year at Auburn High School with a heavy heart, as two of his older brothers were shot trying to break up a fight involving as many as 35 people. One brother was seriously wounded and another was killed instantly on that Sunday — May 1, 2011.

Danny knew that whatever he did in life, he would dedicate it to his brother’s memory. Four weeks later, he won the state championship in the shot put.

Shelton arrived on the Washington campus in 2011, as the true freshman and was brought along slowly behind Alameda Ta’amu at weak-side defensive tackle, but he would emerge as the Huskies’ starter at strong-side tackle for the Apple Cup clash vs. Washington State and vs. Baylor in the Alamo Bowl. He finished his first season with just 11 tackles, but he made the most of those opportunities, as three of his hits were touchdown-saving tackles, breaking up two passes and pressuring the quarterback twice, all coming on third-down snaps. He also recovered a fumble.

After his freshman campaign, Shelton worked hard during the offseason, shedding over 20 pounds of “baby fat,” as he was determined to keep his starting job. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt was replaced by energetic Justin Wilcox and the defensive scheme also changed. With the newly-found position of nose guard looking for an occupant, Shelton fended off all challengers to emerge as the 13-game starter in 2012.

Shelton’s sophomore season was a trying one, as he battled hamstring issues and lower leg issues (suffered in UW’s third game vs. Portland State), and continued to play on, even though he had suffered a broken hand that limited his arm-tackling ability. Still, the All-Pac 12 Conference honorable mention and Academic All-Pac 12 choice finished seventh on the team with 45 tackles. All five of his quarterback pressures killed scoring drives and he also posted six touchdown-resulting tackles.

The 2013 season would see an even more determined Shelton beginning to emerge. Two years removed from his brothers’ tragedy, with his upper chest sporting a tattoo that spelled out “Search For The Truth,” those reveal the nose guard’s open-ended pursuit. He was trying to figure out his true self. He was wondering if he had caged the anger that had festered in his soul since his brother was shot to death in front of him two years ago.

Stamping out the fury has been a trying and disjointed process. Whatever pent-up anger still hidden inside was unleashed in the trenches. Again assigned the daunting task of handling multiple blockers, he again finished seventh on the team with 69 tackles, but with 10 pounds of added muscle from the previous season, five of those stops were good for losses and eight others took down runners for no gain. He posted fourteen hits on third-down snaps and ten more inside the red zone, holding opponents to 74 total yards on 57 running plays he was directly involved in.

Shelton was fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery by the time 2014 fall camp opened. Once the season began, gone was the No. 71 jersey that he sported during his first three seasons with the Huskies, replaced by No. 55, his late brother Shennon’s favorite number. “I’m trying to work to represent this number right — 55 is the new me,” he said.

Talk to any opposing offensive lineman that has had to face Shelton during the early stages of the 2014 season and they can tell you about the shear fear they had trying to block out this 339-pound behemoth disguised in a Husky uniform.

Shelton entered last weekend leading the nation in sacks with seven. No defensive tackle/nose guard since the NCAA first began recognizing sacks as an official statistic in 2000 have led the nation in that category. The closest any defensive tackle came was in 2012, when Will Sutton of Arizona State placed third with 13 sacks.

Shelton is also performing another rarity – a nose guard leading his team in tackles – as he has 47 hits (28 solos) with 10 stops-for-loss and six QB pressures through five games. In those five contests, he’s recorded at least ten tackles three times. The last time an interior lineman had at least three double-digit performances in a season for the Huskies was by Lynn Madsen in 1983.

CAREER NOTES

Shelton has appeared in a total of 44 games for the Washington Huskies, starting each of his last 33 appearances – 30 at nose guard, two at strong-side tackle and one at strong-side end…Has collected 162 tackles (86 solos) with 10 sacks for minus-35 yards, 17.5 stops for losses of 49 yards and seventeen quarterback pressures…Recovered three fumbles and blocked three kicks…In 153 running plays directed at him, Shelton held those ball-carriers to just an average of 1.01 yards per attempt (155 yards), as no runner has generated a run of 10 yards or longer vs. the nose guard. Shelton posted 13 touchdown-saving tackles with 22 third-down hits and nine fourth-down tackles vs. the ground game, making 23 stops-for-loss, in addition to taking down runners at the line of scrimmage for no gain sixteen other times…Thirty-seven of his hits came inside the red zone, including eleven on goal-line stands…On 45 passes targeted into his area, the opposition has completed just eight attempts (17.78%) for 31 yards, an average of 3.88 yards per completion and a miniscule 0.69 yards per pass attempt. Shelton also recorded 15 third-down stops and another on a fourth-down snap vs. the aerial game, tackling one receiver behind the line of scrimmage for a loss, while registering six touchdown-saving tackles vs. the aerial game.

2014 SEASON

Shelton received All-American first-team preseason honors from The NFL Draft Report and Sporting News, adding third-team accolades from Athlon Sports…The senior was also named the best nose guard prospect eligible for the 2015 draft by The NFL Draft Report, as the Bednarik Award (nation’s top defensive player) Watch List member was a consensus All-Pac 12 Conference first-team preseason choice…Through the team’s first five games, the nose guard not only led the Huskies with 47 tackles (28 solos), but he also led the nation with seven sacks for minus-23 yards, pacing UW with 10 stops for losses of 30 yards, in addition to registering six quarterback pressures…Shelton has limited ball carriers to just 14 yards on 44 running plays directed at him (0.32 yards per carry average, the lowest figure for any defensive tackle in the FBS in 2014), producing one touchdown-saving tackle, six third-down hits, one more stop on a fourth-down snap and thirteen hits inside the red zone, including two on goal-line stands vs. the ground attack. The nose guard took down those runners for losses on 11 plays and stopped ball carriers at the line of scrimmage for no gain on two other snaps…Shelton allowed just three of 13 passes into his area to be caught, good for just 10 yards, as he added two touchdown-saving tackles, seven third-down stops and rerouted running backs coming out of the backfield away from three targeted tosses vs. the passing game.


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