I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.
Danny Shelton, DT, Washington - 6'2, 343 - Age 22
Every couple years, one of those rare birds comes along that we all wonder about. They are massive, massive humans who still retain quickness and flexibility. Some, with the proper motors, can weigh nearly 350 pounds and make their share of plays - but, more importantly, they prevent countless others because opponents stop trying to test them up the middle. They are earth movers, best set in "30" fronts, as the NT in a 3-4. The best are very established stars in the NFL, Wilfork, Ngata, and Poe. If you can find one, he is always drafted quickly because unlike WR, CB, or LB, there are not 5 others like him. In this draft, there is nobody like Danny Shelton from Washington, and that is why he is sure to go in Round 1 at the draft.
The question then, for interested teams, is whether he is one of those chosen ones listed above - along with Casey Hampton, Shaun Rogers, and at times, BJ Raji. Or, is he more of a Alameda Ta'Amu type, a similar man of great size 6'3, 350, from Washington, that we debated just a few short years ago. Not every large man of Polynesian descent is Haloti Ngata. And that is why we are carefully looking at Shelton to decide if he is worthy of the hype. What makes it somewhat difficult is that Shelton is joined on that Washington defense with 3 other defenders who might all be Top 50 players as well. He was on a loaded defense, to say the least. We examined the Stanford, California, and Hawaii games to get a feel for his work and of course, watched the Senior Bowl week where he was the talk of the town.
What I liked: Well, there is so much to really like about Shelton. He is very athletic for a man of his size. He also appears to play very hard and generally seems to be in the right condition, although he would "gas out" occasionally. He is an absolute strength mismatch up the middle against any guard or center he faces, and therefore demands double teams at all times or he is laying on top of your Quarterback. He also holds up run plays by 1-arming a guard or center and pushes him to the side to make the play with real strong leverage techniques. He is not going to get out-wrestled at the point of attack and that is why it was interesting to see a team like Stanford (who runs right at everyone) to pretty much shelf their interior runs against Washington. He splits through gaps and double teams with impressive agility and occasionally reaches from a pile to grab the ball carrier and not let go. He is a force to be sure. He also is ending each play in the frame, which is rare amongst men of that size. That means when the play goes away from him, he is rallying to the ball which is a prerequisite on this defense.
What I did not like: More than anything, I think we are getting a little carried away with how good he was. He had 9 sacks this season, for instance, but 6 were in the first 2 weeks against overmatched Hawaii and Eastern Washington. The rest of the year, he had a more reasonable pace, but this business that he was leading the nation in sacks halfway through the season gives the impression that he will be double-digit sack guy from the interior, and that is not reasonable. More than anything as we speak from a Dallas point of view, he just doesn't seem to be a scheme fit. That doesn't mean he can't play in a 4-3, because he can and he would be very good. But, the value a 4-3 team puts on a guy like this would be well below what a 3-4 team would. That is why the 3-4 teams are willing to give him a Top 15 pick and run, give that they know the team behind him will do it if they won't.
Summary: Excellent prospect for sure and as we said at the top, there are just not any others like him. Either you get Danny Shelton to play nose tackle or you don't. You don't have a Plan B at this spot, which means that it then becomes a candidate for over drafting just because of his positional rarity. Odds are low that he has a career like Ngata, but the idea that he could is too much to resist on draft day. He carries his weight well and looks like a freak of nature when he is on his game, but I don't see how Dallas would value him nearly as highly as a 3-4 team would. For those teams, this guy might be worth a trade up.