Let’s Not Be Blind To Drew Shelton’s Rise
The blind side blocker is one of the most important positions on the football field.
There’s even a movie named after it.
Penn State’s starting left tackle and quarterback Sean Clifford’s blind side protector, Olu Fashanu was having himself an exceptional season before he got injured in the fourth quarter of the loss to Ohio State on Oct. 29. There were even talks of him going in the top-10 of this year’s NFL Draft.
So, the position was set to take a step back, surely…
Enter: Drew Shelton
Shelton, the true freshman tackle hailing Downingtown, Pennsylvania stepped in and stepped up. He took on the role of Clifford’s blindside blocker and prospered, helping propel the Nittany Lions to a four-game win streak to end the season.
“Drew Shelton’s a beast, honestly,” Clifford said following Penn State’s win over Rutgers on Nov. 19.
The 6-foot-5, 296 lbs. tackle was the highest-rated offensive lineman in the blue and white’s 2022 recruiting class. He was a four-star recruit and the No. 122 player in the nation (12th-best tackle), choosing Penn State over Florida and Cincinnati, amongst others.
Initially, the intention was to preserve Shelton’s redshirt and add another year onto his Penn State career. However, with the slew injuries the Nittany Lions sustained on the offensive line, his time arrived sooner than originally anticipated.
Shelton was catapulted into a starting role, securing his first career nod against Indiana on Nov. 5. He made it count, allowing zero sacks, quarterback hits and finishing with a 95% pass-blocking efficiency rating over 42 pass-block opportunities (per PFF).
As a mere true freshman getting his first collegiate start, Shelton was plugged in for Fashanu and played exceptionally well, helping the transition to his permanent absence feel as seamless as possible.
“I couldn’t be more proud of [Drew],” center Juice Scruggs said. “When his number was called, he was ready… To be honest, it’s a big [void] filling in for Olu, and I think he’s done a damn good job.”
Fashanu played eight games this season and didn’t surrender a single sack in just under 300 pass block opportunities (per PFF). To the surprise of many, Fashanu recently announced that he’ll be returning to Penn State in 2023, setting up the Nittany Lions with a pair of premier of edge protectors bookending the offensive line for at least another season.
“Seeing [Shelton] and how he’s grown up since recruiting him… I wish you guys would’ve seen me as a freshman, it wouldn’t have been good going out on that field,” Phil Trautwein said earlier this month. Trautwein, hired as Penn State’s offensive line coach in 2020, played college football at Florida and in the NFL from 2009 to 2012.
Shelton added about 15-20 pounds of muscle onto his frame since arriving at Penn State over the summer which has helped his development tremendously, especially when you factor in his already elite length, quickness and athleticism.
A multi-sport athlete in high school, Shelton is as talented and physically gifted as they come. In addition to that, his football IQ and work ethic, he was able to step in and find success early on with little struggle.
He’s had his ups and downs since being inserted into the starting lineup which is expected, but as a true freshman who was basically thrown into the fire that is the Big Ten, Shelton rose up to the occasion and has been nothing less than outstanding. The experience that he was able to gain in his inaugural campaign should prove worthwhile too, as Shelton seeks to be a key piece to the offensive line puzzle in the near future.
“I’m excited about him,” Trautwein said. “He’s going to continue to get better. He’s not going to ever be content and is going to have that mindset of ‘I need to outwork everyone’.”
“You’re going to see a lot of ball from Drew Shelton, for sure.”
Zach Donaldson is a fifth-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.