As has been seemingly often the case in recent years, the Cleveland Browns had two selections in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and as has, again, often been the case, they used that high tender to address their depth in the trenches.
One of those two first-round selections came out with Danny Shelton, a nose tackle, with the 12th overall pick in the draft. As might be expected, he contributed immediately, playing in 16 games and starting 15, registering 36 tackles, which is quite a bit for a nose tackle, even in the heyday of the 3-4.
While he put up the tackle numbers and logged a bit over 500 snaps, the second-most along the defensive line by only a couple dozen, however, the general observation has been that his rookie year was a disappointing campaign. One tangible measurement that might point to that fact would be the Browns’ 30th-overall ranking in the run defense department, which is the nose tackle’s primary jurisdiction.
Last season, Cleveland placed 30th in terms of total rushing yards allowed, surrendering 128.4 yards on the ground per game, better than only the Saints and Eagles. They also ranked 28th in terms of yards allowed per carry, giving up 4.5 yards on average every time an opposing player ran the ball.
The Browns’ defense allowed 11 rushing touchdowns, which was a placing in the middle of the pack, while they allowed the sixth-most explosive runs in the league, with 14 of those against Cleveland, including four runs of at least 40 yards. No team allowed more than five runs of 40 yards or more.
Suffice it to say that Shelton did not exactly kick off his career in the same fashion as Casey Hampton did for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who helped the Steelers move up from 12th in the league at 105.8 yards per game to first in the NFL in his rookie season in 2001, the defense allowing just 74.7 yards per game at a mere 3.5 yards per carry. Interestingly, they actually allowed 12 explosive carries that year.
The Browns believe that part of Shelton’s issue last season stemmed from the fact that his weight ballooned to over 365 pounds. While he has always had a bit of a yo-yo relationship with his weight, it is imperative for him to get it under control with a professional dietician and training staff.
The good news for him, and for the Browns, is that he has done much to lose some of that gut, reportedly slimming down about 30 pounds this offseason and getting down to around 335 pounds. But the coaching staff is still understandably staying on him to ensure that he keeps his weight in check.
The Browns invested heavily in Shelton, even if he no longer has the support of the regime that drafted him. It is imperative that he morph into the key cog in the defensive line that they believed they were drafting. With the team now in the down time ahead of training camp, this will be the true time to test his discipline.