After only keeping five cornerbacks on their initial 53-man roster, the Los Angeles Rams added a sixth on Friday when they signed Duke Shelley, formerly of the Bears, Vikings and Raiders.
Shelley became a free agent this week after the Raiders cut him, and Los Angeles saw an opportunity to add some valuable cornerback depth. He’s undersized at just 5-foot-9 but like Tre Tomlinson, he’s a competitor and plays bigger than his listed size.
It remains to be seen what Shelley’s role will be this season or if he’ll get any snaps early on, but this is a low-risk move by the Rams – one that gives them another player with valuable experience in the secondary, too.
Here are five things to know about their new cornerback.
He had 3rd-best coverage grade of any CB last season
Shelley’s sample size was relatively small compared to most cornerbacks last season, but he still played 398 total snaps and 242 of those were in coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just 20 receptions on 41 targets for a total of 249 yards. That earned him a coverage grade of 84.9, which was the third-best of any cornerback who played at least 162 coverage snaps. Only Sauce Gardner and Pat Surtain II were better than Shelley.
Again, small sample size as he was the only corner in the top 10 who played fewer than 268 coverage snaps, but he was still excellent in that phase of the game last year.
He can play in the slot or outside
Despite only being 5-foot-9, Shelley isn’t just a slot corner. His scouting report before the NFL draft will tell you that, but since becoming a pro, he’s played 434 snaps outside and 525 in the slot, per PFF. After primarily playing in the slot with the Bears, the Vikings put him outside last season and he had his best year yet, so the Rams might look to play him there, too.
Darious Williams was an undersized boundary corner for the Rams and so is Tre Tomlinson, so they’re not afraid to play smaller players outside.
He has 4.51 speed and a 34-inch vertical
Shelley isn’t going to blow anyone away with his speed or athleticism but he’s fast enough and quick enough to make it as an NFL corner. He ran a 4.51 in the 40 at his pro day in 2019 and jumped 34 inches in the vertical, while also running the three-cone drill in 7.10 seconds. None of those numbers are eye-popping, but it’s not as if he’s a 4.70 guy who can’t run with receivers on the outside.
He had 39 passes defensed in 38 games in college
Shelley was constantly around the ball at Kansas State, recording 31 deflections and eight interceptions in 38 games across four seasons. As a senior in 2018, he had three picks and nine pass breakups in just seven games played after picking off five passes combined in the previous two years with 15 pass breakups in that span.
As a pro, Shelley has 12 passes defensed and one interception in his last three seasons.
He helped preserve Vikings’ OT win vs. Bills with clutch PBU
One of the best games of 2022, if not the best, was between the Bills and Vikings in November. It came right after the Vikings signed Shelley to the active roster from the practice squad and it was the first time all year that he played a defensive snap.
Well, he only played three snaps on D in that game but he came up with an incredibly clutch play in overtime when he deflected a pass intended for Dawson Knox in the end zone, preventing a game-winning touchdown for Buffalo.
At 6-foot-4, Knox has 7 inches on Shelley, which only makes the play even better. The Vikings held on to win that game after a wild fourth quarter, and it was largely thanks to this play.
Duke Shelley (20) is the 4th CB on that side this year (3rd this game), was waived by the Bears in August and joined the Vikings practice squad, was signed to the active roster yesterday, and came up with a huge PBU in OT pic.twitter.com/qU9Ez636c9
— Shawn (@SyedSchemes) November 13, 2022