When the Rams signed Coleman Shelton off the street back in 2019, I never thought that he would become a regular starter. The Rams were Shelton's 3rd NFL team. The Niners and Cards didn't think he was worth keeping even on the PS. For years, I wondered why we kept Shelton around and didn't replace him. Shelton only played 23 offensive snaps his first 2 years with the Rams and the only reason he got playing time in 2021 was due to an injury to Brian Allen.
Shelton is an undersized player. At his Combine in 2018, Shelton was 6'3 3/8'' tall, 292 pounds with 31 1/2'' arms, a 75 1/4'' wingspan and 8 1/2' hands. He ran 5.21 seconds in the 40 with a 26 1/2'' vertical jump. Shelton's hands are so tiny that they are in the bottom 1 percentile for centers. His weight is in the 27th percentile, his arm length 17th percentile and his vertical jump 33rd percentile. Very unimpressive in size and only average in athleticism.
Lance Zierlein gave Shelton a 7th to UDFA grade, saying that he had limited anchor, no push as a drive blocker, wouldn't win many solo blocks in the NFL, lacked acceleration on long pulls and had below average strength. All of those things sound to me like they describe Shelton pretty well as a player.
In college, Shelton played RT, LG, RG and C. He's so small, you'd think he'd be a "center only" prospect, yet we played him at guard in 2022. Over the last 2 seasons, Shelton has started a total of 30 games for the Rams. In 2023, he had an overall PFF grade of 66.1, the 16th best C in the NFL. He finished tied for 16th in most SIS points among centers. The Detroit Lions have some excellent and powerful DTs, yet Shelton had a 74.4 PFF grade in the playoff game. For a player that I never expected to even stick on the roster this long, that's a very solid season.
In 2017, Rams fans were very happy with the addition of veteran center, John Sullivan and how he combined with Andrew Whitworth to transform one of the worst OLs into one of the better OLs in the NFL. That season, Sully had a performance INDEX score of 122.4. Coleman Shelton's 2023 INDEX score was 122.1, nearly exactly the same.
Sully's season resulted in him getting a substantial raise in his new contract in 2018, a 2-year $10.75 million contract. Sully only had a 53.8 PFF grade in 2018, his final year in the NFL. The Rams elected not to keep him for 2019. I don't remember off the top of my head exactly where Sully ranked in PFF score that year, but my recollection is that it was exactly the same as Shelton, I think Sully was about 16th or so among centers. I'm sure I wrote it down in one of my OL update fanposts. We could look it up. In essence, Coleman Shelton in 2023 had one of the best years any center has had during the Sean McVay era.
Not in a million years would I have predicted that. Shelton to me was a practice squad level or back-end of the roster type player. Just a random fill-in backup to provide depth, interchangeable and easily replaceable. He's really one of the top 16 starting centers in the league? Okay, I'll eat that crow.
If former UDFA Coleman Shelton is good enough to help the Rams make the playoffs, maybe the Rams never need to draft another center. Perhaps what we need to do is look for the next Shelton.
Name: Will Putnam. Nicknamed "Put". Turns 24 years old in August of 2024. 5th year bonus senior.
School: Clemson. Team captain in 2023. Degree in management. MBA student.
Size: NFLDraftDiamonds 6'4 1/4'' tall, 310 pounds, 31'' arms, 9 3/8'' hands, Sports Illustrated 6'4 1/4'' tall, 304 pounds, 31'' arms, 75 7/8'' wingspan, 9 3/8'' hands, 5.4 second (40 time), Draftscout 5.26 sec (est 40 time), NFLDB 6'4'' tall, 310 pounds, 31'' arms, 76'' wingspan, 9 3/8'' hands, 5.10 sec (est 40 time). Putnam is similar in size to Mike McAllister, the center who was on our PS in 2023. McAllister measured 6'2 5/8'' tall, 305 pounds, 31 1/2'' arms, 78 7/8'' wingspan and 9 5/8'' hands.
4-star recruit, was a 307-pound OT and a wrestler in HS. Profile projected him to be a Day 2 NFL draft pick with Billy Price as his pro comp [The Rams reportedly were interested in Price, but we traded our 1st rd pick for Brandin Cooks and Price never would have made it to the Rams anyway, taken higher in the 1st round by the Bengals. Price was a big draft bust for them and is currently a street FA, not on a roster.] Dad served decades in the Army in the Green Berets as a Special Forces soldier and family moved around frequently.
When Putnam was a freshman, he said that he was mentored by Tremayne Anchrum, a senior. He considers Anchrum to be a role model who set the example for how to be a leader to the younger OL.
Started 12 games at RG in 2020, per NFLDB allowed 8 hurries and zero sacks. Started 10 games at RG in 2021, missing 2 games due to ankle injury, allowed 9 hurries and 3 sacks. Due to injuries to other players, moved to center prior to the 2022 season. He had no prior experience with shotgun snaps at that time. Started 14 games at C in 2022 allowing 6 hurries and 1 sack. Started 13 games at C in 2023, allowing 9 hurries and zero sacks. 49 career starts at Clemson and appeared in 60 games.
Good leadership skills, composed, focused, grounded and mature in interviews. Team oriented, very detailed in his comments when talking about various teammates, talks about them like an OL coach, not like a player in interviews and shows very good football IQ.
NFLMDD consensus board 347th (UDFA)
7th round prospect on Venie Randy Soares's top 300 board for TST
NFLDB 307th (UDFA)
PFN simulator 175th (late 5th to 6th rd)
PFF not ranked (UDFA)
Drafttek 301st (UDFA)
PFN (James Fragoza) mock draft UDFA
Ian Cummings mock draft UDFA
Shane Hallam mock draft UDFA
Fanspeak boards: Bills 255nd (late 7th to UDFA), Goodberry 337th (UDFA), Shoup not ranked, Broncos not ranked, Packers not ranked, Chiefs 302nd (UDFA)
Naturally low center of gravity. Plays with a wide base, good balance. Has very short arms but uses his entire length.
Quick out of his stance. Able to cut off penetrating DT, doesn't allow them to crease him. Light on his feet on both run and pass blocks. Takes quick and short, choppy steps. As agile and quick as a 290-pound center. Consistent and technical footwork on combo blocks. Good range as puller.
Very smooth with good body control. Agile, changes directions fluidly. If he gets knocked to the ground can get back onto his feet without difficulty. One of the best things he does is he makes very small corrections with his feet on both run and pass blocks, getting to and maintaining the proper angle, staying balanced and centered on the block. Some OL are big, but they are sloppy and clumsy oafs. Putnam is undersized, but uncommonly coordinated. Outstanding minor change of direction and small steps in a phone-booth sized area to mirror and adjust to moving defenders to make solid contact. Solid recovery athleticism.
Good hand speed. Has some karate fighting hand skills. Reloads his hands quickly. Can pull NT's hand down. Able to fix his hand placements if his initial punch is off target. Consistent hand placements, maybe one play at most did he have a holding worthy rep, otherwise very clean.
Uncommon skill at quickly switching off from the DT to the LB on combo blocks while staying under control, has a high success-rate at connecting with the LB. While he has very little power as a blocker, his ability to pick off the LB at the 2nd level consistently helped to generate rushing yardage for Clemson RBs. One of his best blocks was a short 3rd down, great timing where there was a gap between the DT and LB and he perfectly switched from the DT, covered the ground with an efficient step and picked off the LB to protect the POA for the RB, that one wasn't an easy block.
Normally does a good job staying over his toes and not wildly lunging or over-extending.
Decent anchor relative to his size on solo pass blocks, sound technique to absorb and deflect power. Good technique on seal blocks, his hands, feet and stance all working in unison to hold his ground and establish a solid seal.
Good football IQ. Excellent awareness to pick off run blitzers attacking his interior gaps. Smart help blocker. Understands when to go directly to the LB on combos. Eyes snap back immediately vs DL slants. Great job feeling the blocking angle and sliding his feet through engagement to prevent the defender from countering and disengaging from his seal blocks, one of the best at this you'll see among college OL. Good job recognizing twists and can immediately react to accept handoff of the other DT from the G. Scans quickly and reliably in pass pro. No problem vs 3-man loop. Snapped the ball when he saw DE jump offsides, giving the QB a free play to throw deep. Always looks through the DT and sees the LB while engaged on his block. Changes his assignment without hesitation, looks for work, never is standing around confused what to do next, always knows where he should be going. Didn't quit in garbage time with his team losing, continued to play game out and do his job with effort and execution.
Snaps the ball with good velocity and decent accuracy. Some snaps are slightly off-target, but there weren't any snaps so bad that the QB couldn't catch the ball or that ruined the play.
Reliable football character, team captain. Prototypical personality to be a center with leadership ability. He's the son of a former Green Beret, I don't expect discipline and accountability to be an issue. Very intelligent, an MBA student.
Todd Gurley at UGA played with David Andrews, an UDFA in 2015 with the Patriots. Andrews is considered to be one of the best centers in the NFL. Without the benefit of knowing how Andrews's career would turn out, if Andrews and Putnam were in the same draft class, I'd take Putnam ahead of Andrews.
Will be a 24-year-old rookie.
Very short arms, rejection-level arm length for the NFL. Forced to bend forward to engage, his helmet and back don't maintain proper angle on some plays. Poor ability to grab and control his opponent on pass blocks. His hand was properly inside the frame of DT, but since his arms are so short he wasn't able to keep his hand on the DT's chest and it slipped off. Trying to recover, even when he moves his feet properly and gets his body in decent position, he can't push the opponent past the QB, his arms are too short, so even though his hands are on the defender, they can still get by him and to the QB. His early 1-handed punch fails to disrupt the defender, because his arm is too short.
On the ground too much, can be thrown down by push-pull moves. Vulnerable to club and swim moves.
Has a small frame, doesn't have broad shoulders or a defined upper body. Below average lower body strength. Not a wide body and doesn't have length, so if his opponent goes around his outside edge, struggles to recover. Similar limitation trying to close interior gaps against loopers.
Too small. Anchor is vulnerable to DTs who can convert speed to power. No match for opponents with superior size, length and explosiveness. I think he'll get overwhelmed and outclassed by elite NFL DTs, he won't hold up without help from a G.
Quick but not explosive off the snap. No power on down blocks. Doesn't run particularly fast, not great range on screens.
RPO based scheme with all shotgun snaps. Simplistic blocking scheme that didn't require C to do anything overly complicated. Gap run seal blocks, basic combo blocks, rarely had to solo pass block.
Not a people mover. No ability to drive block. Doesn't displace DTs on double team blocks. A finesse player, a positional blocker, almost entirely lacking in power to push DL off the LOS against their will. Average core strength.
A liability in goal-to-go situations near the end zone. Poor leg drive at the POA in short yardage situations. In overtime of game, his team faced a 3rd&goal from the 2-yard line, DT beats him right at the POA with push pull move and Clemson can't score on the run. They fail on 4th down and lose the game. Can get overwhelmed at the POA by big NTs.
While he almost never whiffs on the LB at the 2nd level and nearly always makes initial contact, almost every time the LB stacks and sheds him. He can't control them and sustain his block. His hands start too low vs the LB on some plays.
Even though he started as many seasons at G in college as he played C, I don't think he can play G in the NFL. His length is already deficient to be a C, so he'd be even more at a disadvantage trying to play G.
Snaps sometimes slightly high, low or wide, forcing QB to adjust to the ball and causing small disruptions to the timing of the play. One snap was particularly high and wide, difficult for QB to catch. Had 2 poor snaps in overtime, including on important 3rd&1 play.
Got overpowered on pass block by DeWayne Carter from Duke. Leonard Taylor from Miami (ranked 58th overall on the consensus board and given a 4th round grade by NFLDB and Steelers Depot) completely dominated him. Putnam couldn't handle Taylor's length, power and athleticism.
Occasionally his hand slides up near the facemask of the DT, could lead to hands-to-the-face penalties.
Can get tricked and mentally confused by more complex DL games. Against 6 pass rushers, defense makes it look like a twist on one side and a 3-man loop on the other side but it is really a layered loop and C messes it up, misses the first looper, thinking he had to help pick up the twist. You almost never see a college team do something like that but those types of things are much more common in an NFL game. Too eager to help, he runs super wide to get the DE, opening up a wide-open lane in the middle for the LB spying the QB to blitz and get all the way unblocked to the QB.
Low ceiling prospect. Like Coleman Shelton, not a lock to even make an NFL practice squad. There was a similar center from Clemson named Dalton Freeman who was an UDFA in 2013. Freeman played ST as a rookie and got substantial offensive snaps in only 2 regular season games that season, both at the very end of the season for a bad Jets team. That was it, he never appeared in another NFL regular season game the rest of his career.
Draft Grade and Pro Comp
Late round grade. (Austin Blythe, late 7th round 2016, Colts, Iowa)
Blythe was pick 248 in a draft that had 253 selections. He was drafted, but indistinguishable from Mr. Irrelevant. Blythe was 6'2 1/8'' tall and 291 pounds. His arms measured over an inch shorter at the Combine but were 31 1/2'' at his Pro Day, 76'' wingspan and 9 3/8'' hands. He ran 5.36 seconds in the 40 at the Combine. The Colts waived him after only one season and he was claimed off waivers by the Rams. Just like Coleman Shelton, I didn't think that Austin Blythe would ever become a starter for the Rams. Blythe ended up starting 3 seasons with the Rams and one season for the Seahawks. To my knowledge, per PFR's Approximate Value metric, Blythe is the most valuable player out of any of the 7th round selections from the 2016 draft, though almost all of that value was realized by the Rams, not by the Colts as the team that drafted him.
In fact, Blythe has more career value than any other player the Colts drafted that year other than Ryan Kelly in the 1st round, a center who has made 4 Pro Bowls. Blythe had more total value than the 2nd, 3rd and 4th round picks by the Colts that year, combined. That seemingly random waiver claim by the Rams in 2017 was far more valuable than the 2nd round pick by the Colts in 2016. That wasn't just a fluke either, the 2nd round pick and both 3rd round picks for the Colts in 2017 also were big busts. Just another example of what I call "the dirty secret" of the draft. Many of these picks only look good on the day your team picks the players. Years later, many of those same picks in hindsight will prove to be virtually worthless. The GM who made those lousy picks in 2017 was Chris Ballard, who was named Executive of the Year in 2018 and is still the GM of the Colts.
On the surface, Putnam fits the profile of a player who isn't going to cut it in the NFL. He's not big enough and he's not strong enough. He's like Jeff Saturday, who was 292 pounds with 31 1/2'' arms. The reason I'm still interested in him, even if it just as a priority UDFA, is he is a very smart player, has good technique and has very good feet.
I'm not expecting Putnam to be a starter in the NFL, but that's not the right question. The only critical question when it comes to looking for a backup C is "If we had to put this guy into an NFL game as our starter that week, could we still have a decent chance at winning that game? Can he hold up enough that we could run our normal offense?" If he achieves more than that and becomes the next Blythe, Shelton or Andrews, what a great bonus.
The Rams don't hold any late 7th round picks in this year's draft, but if they were to acquire one via trade, Will Putnam is the type of player I'd take at the very end of the draft.