ARIZONA CARDINALS

Small corner Sojourn Shelton comes from big-time school not short on confidence

May 15, 2017, 11:05 AM | Updated: 4:57 pm
Cornerback Sojourn Shelton prepares for a play during rookie minicamp Friday, May 12. (Photo by Ada...
Cornerback Sojourn Shelton prepares for a play during rookie minicamp Friday, May 12. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)
(Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Following his first rookie minicamp practice, Sojourn Shelton was unsure if he was allowed to chat with the media without permission from the team.

Being a rookie — and an undrafted one, at that — he did not want to ruffle any feathers or do anything he was not supposed to.

He was given the go-ahead, of course, and in some ways, Shelton is not your normal undrafted rookie.

A four-year starter for the Wisconsin Badgers who collected 129 total tackles, nine interceptions and 30 passes defensed while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior, he did all he could at the collegiate level to warrant being chosen in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Yet, he was not among the 253 players selected.

Free to sign with whoever had interest, Shelton heard from the Arizona Cardinals, who offered him the most lucrative signing bonus of any of their 17 undrafted free agent pickups.

“It kind of sucked,” Shelton said of going undrafted after his first rookie minicamp. “I mean, not getting picked up right away, but everybody has a dream and a goal of one day getting drafted, so that kind of was a bummer.

“But at the same time, I was just happy a team thought highly of me and was able to bring me in so I can get an opportunity at my dream.”

Shelton described himself as a feisty player, one who will take calculated risks on the field.

“But just an aggressive corner, a scrappy corner,” he said. “I am smaller, so that’s my whole thing, just being like an annoying gnat outside, just can’t get away from them. That’s the kind of dude I pride myself on being.”

Shelton is indeed on the smaller side for a cornerback, and he understands his 5-foot-9, 177-pound frame scared some teams away from him.

“It’s sad — not sad, but you know, when I think of it, it kind of sucks,” he said. “I know I had the production; make any play — made a lot of plays in my college career, played in a lot of games — but the size thing is kind of what held me back.”

The cornerback stood out in his first practice Friday, according to Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who noted Shelton had a great career at Wisconsin and “knows how to play the position.”

Even for his size, which Arians said is probably what kept him from being drafted.

“We had him up there pretty high, and that’s why we went after him, really, right after the draft,” he said. “We really liked him. It really came down — we had Rudy (Ford) way up there and we traded up — or we’d probably have drafted him in the seventh round.”

Some would contend it is better to go undrafted than be chosen in the seventh round, because at least that way you have some say in where you end up. Outside of being able to say you were picked, for a player’s career, free agency has its benefits.

However, Arizona is a pretty good landing spot for Shelton, drafted or otherwise.

After Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals have nothing but question marks at the cornerback position. Returning are veteran Justin Bethel and second-year pro Brandon Williams, and there is Ford, the team’s sixth-round pick who is transitioning from safety to cornerback, but the position is far from settled.

With a good summer, it’s not unreasonable to think Shelton — with his experience and ability to produce — could find his way into the conversation.

“Just the rules in general, from college to the NFL, is the biggest thing,” he said of his learning curve. “So I think just trying to get those things down pat.

“This last year in the Big Ten we faced teams that threw the ball a lot; when you look at Nebraska, Ohio State — teams like that that run the ball but throw it a lot — I think overall, just coverage-wise, I’m prepared.”

That’s not to say Shelton sees himself as a finished product, as he understands there is plenty of room to improve. He is confident, however, because he said he knows he can play at this level.

“Just got to continue to keep getting better, learn from vets when I do get a chance to be around vets like Pat P. and all the stuff like that,” he said. “But it’s a major chip on my shoulder, just the fact that the production’s there, but just going undrafted because of my size.

“I’m going to keep working at it, and wherever it gets me, it gets me.”

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