Daniel McCullers – King Of The Backups

It’s not yet set in stone but 2020 appears to be another backup year for Daniel McCullers. It’s almost hard to wrap your head around. Drafted in 2014, McCullers has never elevated to starter. When he first arrived, Steve McLendon was the team’s starter. Then they proceeded to draft Javon Hargrave in 2016 and despite him being a small schooler, he easily surpassed McCullers his rookie year. Now with Hargrave cashing in through free agency, Tyson Alualu seems poised to be the Steelers’ starting nose tackle in 2020. Through his career, McCullers has just three total starts.

To be fair, most 6th rounders like McCullers don’t go on to become starters. His staying power in the league is commendable. But very few stick with one team for this long and even fewer do it as players who offer very little on special teams – McCullers’ only action there comes on the FG block unit.

I wanted to see exactly how rare that is. Using Pro Football Reference’s Play Index, I sorted by:

– Defensive Linemen
– Spent Career With Only One Team
– Three Or Fewer Starts

To find who had the most total games played.

Here are the results.

Most Games Played With Three Or Fewer Starts With One Team (Defensive Linemen)

Player (Years) Career Games Career Starts
Mark Pike (87-98) 173 1
Larry Bethea (78-83) 81 2
Chris Wilson (07-12) 80 0
Dave Puzzuoli (83-87) 76 2
Daniel McCullers (14-Pres) 73 3

McCullers ranks 5th on the list with 73 career games, all with Pittsburgh. He certainly won’t hit the record set by the Bills’ Mark Pike (who was more of a rush end and special teamer) as were some of the other names on the list.

Even if you think this list was too specific and using “with one team” is an unnecessary qualifier, McCullers is 12th on the list of most games by a defensive linemen with three or fewer starts, regardless of how many teams they played on. And if he appears in even ten games in 2020 without a start, he’ll climb to #6 on that list.

The fact the Steelers have hung onto him this long is getting baffling. Again, to be fair, he’s played his best football the last two years and we’ve praised the training camps he’s had. New defensive line coach Karl Dunbar has helped him more than John Mitchell. Still, McCullers hasn’t been able to get past “marginal backup” and at some point, the Steelers will move on. It’s overdue.

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