The ball is corralled. He starts slowly towards the far sideline, allowing his blockers to set up in front of him. He receives a punishing block from a teammate, eludes another defender, cuts inside and hits the seam with his blistering speed. He dodges another defender, spins, and heads towards the near sideline on his way for a game-breaking touchdown.
Does this scenario sound familiar? No, I'm not talking about Chicago Bears special teams dynamo Devin Hester; I'm referring to his first cousin -- Temple's electrifying kickoff return man Travis Shelton.
Shelton, a redshirt junior, is one of the most dynamic kick returners in the country, who happens to play for one of the worst college football programs in the nation. The Temple Owls have never been considered a "football factory," but surprisingly they've turned out a few good players in the NFL this decade, most notably Colts defensive tackle Raheem Brook. But no Temple product has ever had the kind of explosive nature Shelton possesses.
His 4.27 speed in the 40-yard dash has made him a dangerous weapon on special teams and a situational contributor on offense for the Owls. Last season, Shelton played in just six games after serving an unspecified suspension by head coach Al Golden, but still averaged an NCAA-best 196.7 all-purpose yards per game.
This season has been a bit of a struggle for Shelton. He doesn't seem to have the same confidence he had last season, and he hasn't had the same kind of impact on special teams or offense. He has 24 returns for 519 yards (21.9 avg.) and just nine receptions for 56 yards and no touchdowns. He's been more involved in the running game this year as compared to last season, but still hasn't had the same kind of success.
Travis Shelton tries to leap over a tackler
AP Photo/Rusty Kennedy
At 5-foot-11, 190-pounds, Shelton is a tremendous athlete who has outstanding ball skills. He's a threat as a return man and can line up on offense as a receiver. He has good hands, great instincts, and excellent vision. He's a shifty player that has a good burst and is elusive in the open field. He's a patient runner that waits for an opening and quickly attacks the coverage.
For Shelton to become a complete player at the next level, he's going to have to run precise routes, improve his hands, and comprehend an offensive scheme to contribute as a receiver. He may have a future as a situational running back in the NFL, but again, he has to improve his overall skills and pass-catching ability.
Just like Hester, Shelton is a multi-dimensional threat who will be a major asset at the next level in the return game. What Hester has done at the NFL level, besides becoming the most dangerous return man in the history of the league, is justify the importance of having an effective special teams unit in addition to a consistent offense and defense.
Shelton's NFL future is bright, especially if he's in a situation where he can use his talents to their fullest. He's going to be an explosive return man at the NFL level and has a chance to be as dynamic as Hester. If he declares for next April's draft, a team will have to consider him as a first-day selection with the mindset of primarily using him on special teams.