It was no secret the Bears were looking to upgrade and get younger at the cornerback position, and with limited draft picks, that was a difficult task.
Yet, they might have been able to accomplish just that with their sixth-round pick YaQuis Bertron “Duke” Shelley.
Shelley is a rare collegiate player who started as a true freshman. He started the final eight games of the 2015 season, becoming the first true freshman to start at corner for Kansas State since 2006 (former Bears fifth-round pick in 2010 Joshua Moore). That season Shelley had 28 tackles and seven pass deflections. He improved as a sophomore in 2016 notching 48 tackles and three picks.
He broke out as a junior with 56 tackles, four for loss, one sack and two picks en route to honorable mention All Big-12 honors. Shelley’s 13 passes defended ranked fourth amongst Big-12 defenders.
He continued his rise as a senior earning second-team All Big-12 (Coaches), first team all Big-12 (PFF) honors. His season was limited to seven games after being sidelined with a right leg injury, but he still managed 33 tackles, three interceptions and nine passes defended.
A combine snub, he impressed scouts at his pro day with a 4.46 40-yard dash despite still recovering from his injury.
How Shelley Wins
Shelley is undersized at only 5-foot-9 with a solid frame at around 180 pounds. Despite his size, he was often tasked with covering the opponent’s No. 1 wide receiver. He has experience in a lot of different coverages at Kansas State including press man, off-man and shallow to intermediate zones.
In man coverage, he has the athleticism necessary to stick with even the quickest receivers to go along with the physicality to match up with opponents bigger than him.
Most impressively, he shows the uncanny ability to mirror receivers feet, which allows him to always be in the best position to make a play on the ball as seen below.
I also love his confidence. After breaking up the play he lets the receiver know it and won’t let him forget it the rest of the game. It’s the type of cockiness that is required to be great at the position.
Shelley’s physicality at the stem is great although he still needs to learn how to better use his hands at the line of scrimmage.
He is also fantastic in off-man coverage, an area where current Bears corner Kyle Fuller excels as well. He stays low in his backpedal, and this allows him to explode towards the receiver when he reaches the stem point.
This is called a click and close, and the play below is a perfect example.
From off-man, he is able to read the receiver as well as the quarterback’s eyes, which really allow his incredible instincts to shine. Sometimes it looks like he knows where the receiver is breaking before he makes a cut.
Shelley is equally adept in zone coverage.
He keeps his eyes on the quarterback and is always aware of where each player is on the field. Below is a perfect example of that. It looks like Kansas State is running a cover-2. Shelley is responsible for plays in the flat.
He redirects the receiver knowing he has safety help over the top. The slot corner bites hard on the play action creating a hole in the zone. Shelley jumps the route and also shows some impressive run after catch ability.
Shelley showed similar awareness on this play. With no routes on his side of the field in the flat, he was able to drift upfield. Putting him in perfect position for the interception.
The part of Shelley’s game that I came away most impressed by was his competitiveness and physicality. He was always around the football, usually talking trash after the play and was not afraid to do the dirty work in run defense.
Many college cornerbacks, especially undersized ones, shy away from contact.
Shelley thrives on it.
He is a great open-field tackler who takes good angles to the ball and has the quickness to close in the open field. He has sound technique choosing to wrap up instead of going for the big hit.
He is equally adept moving downhill …
… As he is moving laterally.
Combine all of this and it is easy to see why the Bears were so enamored with him.
Why Shelley Was Available in Round 6
This one is fairly simple: size and injuries.
Many teams have size and athletic thresholds, so at only 5-foot-9 and less than 190 pounds he was probably off teams boards entirely. Couple that with an injury that did not allow him to do full athletic testing and it is easy to see how he would still be available.
He was also arrested in 2018 for failing to appear in court after not paying two traffic tickets. One for driving without insurance and one for driving an unregistered vehicle. A minor offense that shows some immaturity. Other teams may have red flagged him for this. I trust that Pace and company did their research and were able to look past it.
How Shelley Fits on the Bears
At the start of last season, the Bears kept six corners on the initial 53-man roster. There are three locks currently on the roster in Fuller, Prince Amukamara, and Buster Skrine. Sherrick McManis is a good bet to also make the team given his special teams ability although he is not a threat to steal defensive playing time unless there is an injury.
This means Shelley will be competing with undrafted free agents and this year’s seventh-round pick Stephen Denmark (who seems destined for a move to safety) for the final two spots. It would be surprising if Shelley doesn’t make the team.
The Bears have already said Shelley will work mostly on the inside as a slot corner, a position he did not occupy in college. Given his physicality, athleticism and instincts he should be able to make an easy transition.
However, I would not rule out Shelley playing on the outside.
Yes, he is undersized but 5-foot-9 corners have had some success on the outside in the past. Jason Verrett (when healthy) is one of the best corners in the league and he is the same size as Shelley.
Perhaps his future is on the inside, but before that is a foregone conclusion, I would give him every opportunity to prove he can’t before making the switch.