There’s several players who “lost” the NFL Draft. Arthur Moats’ roster spot could be considered a coinflip. Kevin Colbert backed up his words and put Senquez Golson on notice. And though predictable, there’s seemingly no longer a home for Fitzgerald Toussaint.
Then there are the players who won. Ladarius Green and Jesse James after no tight end was drafted. Ditto with Vince Williams, a vote of confidence sent his way. Less talked about is Daniel McCullers, a player who hasn’t been able to reach his potential. But the team showed no interest in adding competition for him.
It’s a make-or-break year for McCullers, who, frankly, is leaning heavily towards the latter. It isn’t a leverage issue. That’s actually better than I thought it’d ever be. Nor is it effort. His motor runs hard, even if his foot speed doesn’t always seem to show that. The issue begins and ends with his mentality. He’s a teddy bear off and on the field. Not enough nasty, not enough aggression, and he isn’t the vocal leader required to set the front. Cam Heyward talked about this last summer.
“He doesn’t say a lot. It’s more us prying to get him to talk. Being that nose, you call the huddle and we all align next to you.”
So did Joe Greene, a man whose words hold more weight than maybe anyone else in the world, back in 2015.
“I’d like to see number 62 get his tail over the center and beat the crap out of the center, the guard on the right side, and the guard on the left side. Then we’ll be better. Show some energy about what we’re trying to do.”
Before the regular season began this past year, Heyward again noted the expectations he and the rest of the team had for Big Dan.
“Dan’s really got to take the next step. This is a big year for him, and we’re gonna give him every opportunity.”
What actually happened was one of the most lopsided rookie/veteran battles in recent years. McCullers was easily cast aside in favor of Javon Hargrave, a 3rd round pick from the FCS level. By early September, the team officially placed Hargrave ahead of McCullers on the depth chart. No one batted an eye. Hargrave enjoyed an excellent camp and carried that over into games. McCullers flashed his strength and bull rush at practice but did little in-game.
The step he took was one going backwards.
By season’s end, McCullers logged only 182 snaps in what was supposed to be *the* big year for him. He’s firmly entrenched as the backup to Hargrave and doesn’t have a role in sub-packages either.
There’s nothing wrong with just being a backup nose tackle, hey, someone has to do it, but there’s been a descending level of excitement in him since the day he was drafted. He still looks physically imposing but after the snap, he shrinks to someone half his size. The only “battle” he’s ever won for a roster spot is edging out Hebron Fangupo his rookie year, something expected from the moment he was drafted.
Offseasons bring optimism and your run-of-the-mill fluff pieces. McCullers is committed to dropping 15-20 pounds, which may help his lateral movement. But it won’t change his mentality. That’s been the biggest issue and even when asked to fight for the best NFL chance he’s ever had, last year when the nose tackle gig was wide open, he quietly stepped aside.
It’s hard to imagine him ever really helping the Steelers in the future, aside from being a name on the depth chart who on paper, could step in if there’s an injury. But in practice, the team will suffer as they slide away from their two-gap principles, opting for more athletic gap-shooters rather than the next Casey Hampton.
Surprisingly, the team didn’t look to bring in competition. Maybe there was a desire to but practically, they just didn’t have enough picks, or anyone they liked enough to draft. The UDFA group failed to bring in anyone and the future contracts are holdovers from last year – Lavon Hooks and Roy Philon. It appears McCullers will make the roster again and be the least-talked about player on the 53 man roster and when we do, it’ll often be something negative.
There’s little doubt in my mind had competition been brought in, they would’ve been able to leap-frog McCullers and push him off the roster. Taking a chance on him was a worthwhile investment back in 2014, looking at this mountain of a man you rarely find in a draft, but clearly, a pick that never come very close to working out.
Moving on, or at least attempting to, would’ve been the most logical direction.