Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
+Knows how to use his length
+Demands double teams
+Makes hilarious arm tackles
+Not bad stamina for his size
+Not a bad pass rusher
+Draws double teams
-Not a penetrator
-Must be given two gap responsibilities to be effective
-Not a good athlete
-Not athletic enough to make open field tackles
-Not athletic enough to get sacks
What did Daniel McCullers do to deserve a sentence to a 4-3 defense? As soon as Tennessee switched to a 4-3 this off-season, I knew McCullers stock would drop. The guy is one of the worst penetrators I’ve ever seen and he has no role whatsoever in most 4-3 defensive schemes. But mark my words, this kid deserves to be a first round pick. True two-gappers like him are a dying breed, but I really couldn’t design a better two gap lineman in a test tube than McCullers.
McCullers has solid measurables. He has incredible size at 6’6, 358lbs, and above average speed for his size with a 5.18 40 yard dash, according to NFLDraftScoutcom. That speed doesn’t show up on his tape, but he also has 23% body fat (which means he technically isn’t obese), which is incredible and does show up on film. I’ve seen plenty of nose tackles with “good size,” who really are just overweight and fat, but that’s not the case with McCullers. You look up pictures of McCullers, and he looks skinnier than his listed weight, and that’s a result of the fact that muscle is denser than fat. He’s quite muscular for his size, unlike John Jenkins, and that’s seen in his excellent build.
McCullers has many positive attributes against the run. He’s not going to get too many TFL’s, but he’s not supposed to. His natural job is to be a two gap lineman, and, even though Tennessee has moved to a 4-3 this season, they still often use him as a two gap lineman, since he has no ability as one gap penetrator. And, as a two gap lineman, you couldn’t ask for anything more than Daniel McCullers. First of all, in addition to his bulk, he is extremely tall, and that allows him to see over the head of everyone who blocks him, and, as a result, see the running back. Always knowing what’s happening in the backfield results in him having excellent instincts, an essential quality for a two gap lineman. Beyond that, he has excellent length, so, for example, if he’s acting as a two gapper over the center, he has arms long enough to tackle the running back regardless of which of the A gaps the running back runs into. His length and his wide frame makes him such a natural two gap lineman. Lastly, his strength is off the charts. First of all, it’s widely known that the low man wins in football. Daniel McCullers is a 6’6 interior linemen. “Low” isn’t really his forte. He’s never going to get good leverage, and, if a saw other players playing like McCullers, I criticize them for playing way too high. In theory, Daniel McCullers plays too high, but playing high allows him to see over the heads of anyone blocking him, and McCullers is so strong that even with terrible leverage you simply can’t move him. It’s impossible to drive him off the ball, so it doesn’t matter that he plays too high. He makes arm tackles with ridiculous ease. I’ve never seen him miss an arm tackle, and the best example of his strength can be found in the 2012 South Carolina game, where he was sitting with his butt on the ground, and he simply grabbed the jersey of the running back and pulled him to the ground, without him moving an inch. He was the anchor, the running back the boat. He also knows how to draw a double team and he isn’t bad at splitting it. His ability as a two gap lineman is invaluable, because it’s really like having an extra player on the field. I discussed the value of a two gap lineman as a means of defending the read option earlier this year, and McCullers is the kind of guy who would dominate in the role.
McCullers is a terrible one gap lineman. He is completely devoid of quickness, he’s too tall to get low or get leverage as a penetrator, and he lacks everything necessary to make an open field tackle. He has no lateral quickness, very tight hips, and nowhere near enough burst to catch up to a running back. It’s important to note, however, that he knows what he is and makes no effort in pursuit, which is an intelligent means of conserving minimal stamina all 335lbs+ (except Dontari Poe) linemen have. He goes all out on every play he could make an impact, but on plays like bubble screens and tosses, he doesn’t even try which helps conserve his stamina. As a result, my notes estimates he’s on the field for just over 75% of all plays, which is terrific, especially when you consider guys like Terrence Cody who was only on the field for about 40% of plays his final year at Alabama. McCullers might be a bit overused by Tennessee (I’d keep him on the field for about two thirds of all plays), but he makes the most of what he has.
Believe it or not, McCullers is actually a slightly underrated pass rusher. He could clean up his hand usage a bit, he is too slow to actually tackle any quarterback, and his effort is occasionally decreased when he sees a pass because he lacks the stamina to go all out on pass plays, especially when he has no chance of tackling the athletic quarterback. However, when he’s matched up against an undersized guard or center, (6’2 or shorter, and that’s not uncommon for interior linemen), he’s actually very good. He knows how long his arms are, he knows how strong he is, and when he has a matchup against an athletic but undersized lineman, he puts the guy on roller skates. I noticed this when he ate Chris Burnette, one of the most underrated prospects in this draft class (so good in the second level), in the first quarter of this year’s Georgia game. His arms were too long for Burnette to even touch him, and McCullers got a hurry with ease (still not athletic enough for a sack). In short, I don’t think anyone is more likely to get pressure against Jonathan Cooper, the best pass blocking guard I’ve ever scouted, than McCullers, one of the worst pass rushing defensive tackles I have ever seen, since I simply can’t imagine a scenario in which Cooper is able to reach McCullers’ pads. Like everything else about McCullers, it’s unusual, but useful.
I love Daniel McCullers. I think he’s a future pro bowler because of his incredible two gap abilities against the run, of which he has no equal. I’m excited for his NFL career.
NFL Comparison: Damon Harrison? I don’t know. They just don’t make guys this big and this tall in the NFL. Actually… can I compare him to Cordy Glenn?
Grade: 89 (worthy of an early second round pick)
Projection: 75 (will be a mid third round pick)