(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Derrick Shelby was one of the lesser known free agent signings for the Falcons this offseason. However, Shelby is a welcome addition to a defensive front that continued its struggles this past season. The Falcons defense conceded a league-high 20 rushing TDs and recorded a league-low 19 sacks. Given the recent positional changes among the front seven that includes Tyson Jackson moving to Defensive Tackle, and Vic Beasley making the switch to Sam Linebacker in base, little attention has been given to Shelby’s role in the defense. So what should Falcons fans expect from Shelby this upcoming season?
Shelby predominantly played Left Defensive End for the Dolphins last season. From watching Shelby, it is immediately apparent that he is aggressive and disciplined in his run defense. He is undoubtedly a strong edge-setter. He works relentlessly to control the outside shoulder of opposing Tackles and Tight Ends to ensure that runs are forced back inside. Moreover, Shelby exhibits great patience and awareness. At 280lbs, he is strong enough to engage opposing Linemen, hold them in place and then make the tackle as the play unfolds, and he is extremely disciplined when faced with trick plays and counters. According to PFF, Shelby is a huge improvement in the run game over Vic Beasley and Adrian Clayborn, who both graded poorly. Unfortunately, at Defensive Tackle, Shelby is not the same force against the run as he is at Defensive End, but Falcons fans needn’t worry as it is unlikely Coach Quinn uses him on the interior on first and second down, or third and short.
Again, his aggression and discipline immediately stands out in pass defense. Shelby’s bull rush is by far his biggest asset in affecting opposing Quarterbacks in the passing game. He isn’t the type of player to use a variety of pass rushing techniques. With such strong hands, Shelby is able to apply pressure by driving Tackles and Interior Linemen towards their Quarterback. However, he doesn’t possess the hand speed, quickness in changing direction or the nuance in his block shedding to be the top-level pass rusher that the Falcons are in desperate need of. But, Shelby is solid against the pass. He ensures that he contains Quarterbacks and provides considerable pressure, recording 31 quarterback hurries in 2015, according to NFL.com.
One of Shelby’s most valuable contributions to pass defense is his relentlessness in getting his hands up in the face of opposing Quarterbacks. This resulted in a pick 6 against the Ravens this year. Furthermore, if Shelby continues to consistently disrupt with his hands, he can be a nightmare for opposing Quarterbacks. Shelby does need, however, to convert his pressure into big plays. He is often close to making plays but is unable to finish. Hopefully Coach Quinn’s obsession with finishing will remedy this part of Shelby’s game.
What to Expect
Coach Quinn preaches versatility and that is exactly what Shelby provides. I would expect Shelby to play Left Defensive End in the Falcons base 4-3. Falcons fans can expect Shelby to be relentless in setting the edge and slowing rushing offenses. I presume that Shelby will play some snaps at Defensive Tackle in nickel defense on obvious passing downs. The move inside on passing downs will emphasise the strength of his bull rush and hide some of his pass rushing limitations. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Shelby featured on every down for the Falcons this upcoming season. Overall, Falcons fans should be cautiously optimistic about Shelby’s contribution in 2016.
Are you excited about Derrick Shelby this season? Where should he feature in this improving Falcons defense? Let us know in the comments.