Tape Take: Pending Free Agent Derrick Shelby

The Take:

After watching every 2015 snap for Miami Dolphins’ pending free agent Derrick Shelby, I am of the opinion that the team should let him seek employment elsewhere. The snaps suggest Shelby’s an adequate backup who can serve as an ok stopgap in case of injuries, but not much more. He plays better on the inside (but not much better). By NFL starter standards he rarely takes on double blocks, rarely provides heavy pressure, and shows lackluster run-stopping. His stock also falls a little when one throws in a questionable nightclub incident a year ago that came with accusations of intoxicated harassment of a woman, which granted, had some of his team-mates (namely Jared Odrick) calling racism against law enforcement. That incident aside, Shelby’s play merits a role reduction that would necessitate lower pay, and I doubt that after seeing a lot of playing time in 2015, this would satisfy Shelby or his agent camp.

It was notable that Shelby’s snaps when positioned on the inside of the line were significantly better. The backs of Shelby’s blockers were often pressed right up against opposing quarterbacks making not-so-cozy pockets. There is no questioning Shelby’s ability to push inside. He also took on more double teams when positioned inside. This is true for most D-lineman, but good edge rushers (see Cameron Wake) also command double blocks outside, which Shelby does not. It must also be admitted that Shelby did have the exciting super-hero-batted-ball-interception-touchdown-return against the Ravens, paired with a few bruising tackles. However, a single heroic interception against a subpar quarterback leading a losing team and an occasional solid play won’t cut it if the Dolphins expect to win games. “Occasional” by definition is not “consistency,” and “consistency” is what Miami sorely lacks.

In a season-long snap by snap breakdown of Shelby’s performance it was surprising to find him on the field so often. It’s baffling how often Shelby was on the field, Even considering an injury to Cameron Wake that sidelined the star for most of the season and forced Shelby into a starting role. According to the breakdown, in that massive amount of snaps, Shelby took on an overwhelming 564 single blocks juxtaposed with a mere 103 double blocks. One would think an NFL starter could find a tackle or two with so many single blocks, if not a few sacks. However, the breakdown has Shelby forcing heavy pressure only 58 times and contributing to the stoppage of plays 96 times (see Evidence).

The tape presents a tedious reel of snaps with Shelby uninvolved despite commanding little attention. There are several instances later in the season when he stands upright, coming out of strong lower position, long before whistles blow. This makes one question Dan Campbell’s claims that “the effort [was] there” from the players week to week. For Shelby it is either a lack of effort or a lack of talent holding him back, because the opportunities were there in abundance in 2016. It’s safe to argue that it’s a little of both. Not a lot. Just a little. And a little is enough to keep a team under the playoff hump, or to keep this potential starter in a permanent backup role if retained.

Evidence (beyond generic stats):

Anyone who understands the game of football understands that impact players do not always show up in stat-lines. For instance, Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh has been criticized for a lack of tackles and sacks, but observation of the tape, even to the casual football critic, reveals undeniably that he’s a force in the middle. Therefore, the chart below presents a breakdown of the tape that accounts for aspects of D-line play not recorded in common stat-lines. The categories included in the chart are:

  • Game Grade – For each snap the player is assigned either a double minus for terrible performance, a single minus for poor performance, a plus for positive performance, a double plus for excelling performance, or in rare cases a triple plus for game changing plays. Neutral impact plays are not considered which omits a handful of snaps. The game score is the sum of all plus and minuses accumulated for a game. The season total is calculated as a sum of all 16 Game Grades (Sadly for the 2015 ‘Phins, there are only 16 Game Grades.)
  • Unblocked Snaps – Snaps for which the player went unblocked
  • Single Blocked Snaps – Snaps for which the player took on a single blocker
  • Double Blocked Snaps – Snaps for which the player took on two or more blockers
  • Light Pressures – Snaps for which the player visibly affected the play in the backfield
  • Heavy Pressures – Snaps for which the player, or a blocker moved by the player, made contact with the quarterback, the ball carrier, or the ball, in the backfield, at any point during the play.
  • Play Stop Contributions – Snaps for which the player directly contributed to the stoppage of a play through a tackle, assist, batted ball, forced turnover, pressuring ball carriers into other tacklers, or other positive means of terminating a play
WeekGame GradeUnblocked SnapsSingle BlocksDouble BlocksLight PressuresHeavy PressuresPlay Stop Contributions





Spencer J Taylor

Spencer J Taylor was raised in an NCAA Division-1 football coaching and sports administration family. He earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing including studies in Creative Nonfiction from New Mexico State University, where he studied under prolific sports writer Rus Bradburd, author of Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson.

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