Coleman Shelton already made history as a two-star recruit who made All-Conference twice as an offensive lineman. This weekend, he will seek to make more history by becoming the first Husky offensive lineman selected in the NFL draft since Senio Kelemete in 2012. Today, let’s take a deeper look at how Shelton got here and what might come next for the big man.
Scouting services are historically hard on centers, due in part to the presumption that it’s easier for an offensive lineman to move from the outside in than the reverse. Since he profiled as a center even in his prep days in Pasadena, Shelton earned only two stars as a recruit. Local superpowers USC and UCLA overlooked him, and he was left with a choice between scholarship offers between Washington and California.
After a redshirt year, Shelton served as a Swiss Army Knife on the line in the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Over those two years, Shelton started at every position on the line except his natural center spot. Even though he didn’t have a regular position, he captained the team against Oregon in 2015 and won the team’s Lineman of the Year award.
He permanently shifted to the inside in 2016 and started every game there for the remainder of his Husky career. He made All-Conference both years, including first team in 2017. He also made Academic All-Conference both years. In his senior season, he repeated as the team’s Lineman of the Year.
While there are few stats to quantify the performance of offensive linemen (except for his single tackle in 2016!), all indicators say that Shelton was one of the most important players on the team over the last couple of years. Chris Peterson describes him as a player with a “chip on his shoulder” and offensive line coach Scott Huff raves about his intensity and attitude. His coaches, teammates, and the media all believe that he is one of the best offensive linemen in the conference. But will that be enough to get him drafted?
Center is not a position typically targeted early in the NFL draft. For the same reasons that the position receives less attention in recruiting rankings, only the very best centers tend to get drafted at all. Over the last five seasons, only eight total Pac-12 centers have been drafted. The Huskies haven’t sent a center into the NFL draft since 1995 when Frank Garcia heard his name called in the fourth round.
One opportunity for Shelton to distinguish himself is the Draft Combine. Shelton weighed in at 295 pounds, 15 pounds heavier than when he arrived at Washington and enough for him to have above-average size for a center. Shelton also participated in the 40 Yard Dash, Vertical Jump, Broad Jump, 3 Cone Drill, and 20 Yard Shuttle. Consistent with his reputation as a versatile athlete, Shelton tested above-average for his position group in both the 40 Yard Dash and 20 Yard Shuttle. Unfortunately, he was below the midpoint for all of the other drills. Nonetheless, his performance in the speed and agility categories lines him up nicely with other successful offensive linemen.
Scouts who have publicly evaluated Shelton have similar reviews of his game. Everyone notes how much experience he has against high-end competition. Indeed, more than 40 starts in a Power Five conference is a unique qualification for an offensive lineman. His versatility and agility also earn him high marks and could set him up as a good depth piece or a player who can help in the screen game.
There are two consistent critiques of Shelton and they are closely related. The first is his overall power. Despite his large frame, scouts question his power at the point of attack. As Bleacher Report’s draft guru Matt Miller describes it, “One-on-one drive blocks become stalemates at best and will be worse in the NFL.” The other concern is Shelton’s arm length. At 31.5”, he has notably short arms for an NFL offensive lineman. A center can get by with somewhat shorter arms because he does not have to seal the edge, but Shelton’s arm length might prevent him from using his agility to play other positions along the line.
Altogether, Miller describes him as a “priority free agent” who would fit well on a practice squad due to his experience at multiple positions and reputation as a hard worker.
Shelton’s relative strengths and weaknesses put him squarely on the draft bubble. Over the last three years, NFL teams have drafted either six or seven centers in each draft. Naturally, Mel Kiper has Shelton rated as his #7 center available. Miller has Shelton ranked as the 26th overall offensive lineman and projects his 24th lineman to be the last one drafted. Jon Dove, who covers the NFL Draft for Fansided, is slightly more optimistic. He sees Shelton’s upside as that of a starting center if he can add upper-body strength.
While there are enough mock drafts online that some will inevitably list Shelton as a likely draftee, none of the most reputable media outlets project him as a selection. On the other hand, Shelton has obvious strengths, lots of experience, and a personality that will likely attract coaches. If Shelton is drafted, it will likely be in the 6th or 7th round, but I suspect that he’s slightly more likely to go undrafted. That will leave him as a coveted undrafted free agent who will have to earn his playing time. Of course, it won’t be the first time for Shelton, who arrived at Washington without a certain role and became a standout.