The Kansas City Chiefs may have lost their preseason opener to the New Orleans Saints, but there were plenty of positives to take away from the game. One such performance was that of Danny Shelton, who enters his second season with the team.
While only playing in a handful of games in 2022 (and being rewarded with a Super Bowl ring), Shelton played most of the season on the practice squad. This was not shocking, as he showed up to training camp that year overweight.
Regardless of his physical condition, his rare combination of size and strength provided him some value, and the team kept him around this offseason to compete for a shot at the roster. Shelton showed up to camp in better shape and has been given a chance to earn more playing time through camp.
Danny Shelton looks noticeably slimmer.— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) July 23, 2023
He would have to sit through a lackluster performance by the starting defense to see the field, but he wasted no time showing off his improved conditioning and ability as a player.
Stuffing the run
In training camp, Shelton has been primarily lined up as the second team one-technique, playing a shade just outside the center — or in heavier looks as a head-up nose tackle. From this position, he has been able to show off his best asset: eating space and remaining stout at the line of scrimmage.
NO runs power and the C has to back block Shelton. No movement allowed and then Shelton works off of the block to get in on the tackle. The momentum of the pile stops and goes backward once he starts to finish the tackle. pic.twitter.com/nP9PpSh1MD— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) August 14, 2023
The Saints run power, and their center is responsible for blocking back on Shelton. On the snap, he contacts Shelton, but no movement is created. Standing up the center, Shelton is able to work over the top of the block using sheer force and is able to get one of his large mitts on the running back.
The pile is forcefully pulled backward as he finishes the tackle.
While Shelton has been primarily used as a nose tackle in 3-4 defenses during his career, he can still use the same two-gap principles to play the 1-technique in Steve Spagnuolo's 4-3 and 4-2 looks.
One of the base principles for any nose tackle or 1-technique is being able to play two gaps.
Shelton two gapping here. Gives up no movement and starts to press the C into the backfield. Does not make the tackle but he helps take away gaps for the RB to go. The rest of the defense closes in quickly. pic.twitter.com/T9rkgq1g8D— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) August 15, 2023
Although he is lined up shading the center's left shoulder, Shelton is responsible for the left and right A-gaps.
On the snap, he explodes his hands into the center's chest and starts to create leverage. With this leverage, he is able to move the center into the backfield, as he plays both A-gaps. Once he recognizes that the running back has chosen the right A-gap, he attempts to disengage the block.
Shelton does not make the stop, but the center has to hold him to prevent a tackle. With both A-gaps played successfully by Shelton, the rest of the defense can quickly swarm the running back, allowing only a minimal gain.
Shelton not only takes two gaps; more often than not, he can also take two blockers as well.
Shelton doesn't give up an inch while taking on the double team. No shot for either OL to work to the second level. He works down the middle of them perfectly and maintains his leverage. pic.twitter.com/Dl8Poblij0— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) August 15, 2023
Lined back up in the shade, he takes on a double team and keeps both Saint's blockers from reaching the second level. He keeps his pads lower than theirs, which makes him virtually impossible to move.
Taking on double teams and allowing his teammates to make plays while he battles in the trenches will be where Shelton can provide his largest impact on the team.
Shelton had a good day stuffing the run and making the most of his 21 snaps. He was rewarded for his efforts. Shelton remained on the field on first-and-20 — a passing down in the NFL.
Shelton + Herring working an E/T stunt. Herring is tripped, but Shelton shows off some impressive quickness to get into the backfield for the sack. Opposite side FAU works a spin to the inside and is likely in position for a stop had Shelton not finished the play. pic.twitter.com/bPjGFLnMJr— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) August 14, 2023
Shelton and Malik Herring worked an end-tackle stunt — the defensive end penetrates through the B-gap, and the defensive tackle loops around.
Herring makes good initial penetration but is tripped up. Shelton pauses upon the penetration but then chugs his way vertically up the field. Saints quarterback Jameis Winston does not like his read downfield and looks to improvise, but with some last-second acceleration, Shelton is able to grab an ankle and bring him down for the sack.
With only 6.0 career sacks, Shelton shouldn't be considered a pass rusher, but this play displays the Chiefs coaching staff being willing to let him take as many reps as possible and do his best to earn a roster spot.
The bottom line
Entering his second season with the organization, he will have a real shot to make the roster. Nothing is guaranteed, but so far, Shelton is making the most of every opportunity that he has been presented.
His improved conditioning has allowed him to stay on the field in longer spurts, which is what he needs in a preseason where snaps are a precious commodity. The Chiefs' interior defensive line is particularly thin, and even when Chris Jones does finally show up, they will need as much help as possible.
Shelton played his snaps against backup players, and while they were a good showing of who he can be on this team, he will need to show what he can do against starting-caliber players as well.
With two games to go in the preseason, I would expect him to continue to earn more playing time, making the team think long and hard about what to do with him.