Watch Mike Daniels play against Oklahoma in last December’s Insight Bowl and you’ll immediately know why GM Ted Thompson spent a fourth-round pick on a defensive lineman who will probably never see more than 30 snaps in a game. The former Iowa star won’t be a starter because he’s too short (6’0) to play end in a 3-4 and too light (290) to play nose tackle. What he will be, however, is a disruptive pass rusher. And that’s why he could be to the Packers what Steve Kerr was to the Bulls in the 1980s – a specialist who helped turn an already great team into a dynasty.
I became enamored with Daniels while watching him dominate the Sooners. He was far and away the best defensive player on the field that night, but I never considered him as a possibility for the Packers because of his size. That was my mistake – and it’s why I’m not a GM. Thompson always talks about drafting good players regardless of where they project in the National Football League. By selecting Daniels, he put his money (or in this case, the team’s money), where his mouth is.
Daniels ran an eye-opening 4.86 at the NFL Combine in February, but he’s not just extremely fast for a player his size. He also has a lightning quick first step and natural explosion. That, along with a non-stop motor, is what should make him an effective pass rusher at the next level. One scout compared him to Drake Nevis, who was drafted out of LSU in the third round by the Indianapolis Colts a year ago. I can see the similarities. Both players were very productive at big-time colleges, both players are very quick and both players were devalued by scouts because of their size. However, I see Daniels as a better overall prospect. He’s slightly more athletic and he’s more explosive.
So why was such a talented prospect still available at the end of the fourth round? There are two main reasons. The first is his lack of size and strength. He’s simply not big or strong enough to start in a 3-4, and over half the teams in the league are currently using that scheme. This obviously didn’t dissuade Thompson, but most general managers wouldn’t be willing to use a pick that high on a part-time player. And as any regular person knows, the smaller the group of prospective employers, the smaller the chance of getting a job. The other reason is his history of injuries. Daniels suffered a number of concussions while at Iowa and he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum after the bowl game.
With Daniels, second-round pick Jerel Worthy, free agent Anthony Hargrove and holdover B.J. Raji, the defense should be able to generate consistent pressure up the middle in 2012. That didn’t happen last season when Jarius Wynn, C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal all struggled to get within five feet of the quarterback. This new foursome may not be fearsome, but it should be pretty good. And if first-round pick Nick Perry plays up to his enormous potential at outside linebacker, the days of quarterbacks sitting in the pocket all day and picking apart the secondary should be over. That’s why the only people more pumped-up about this pick than me are named Woodson, Williams and Shields.