It’s natural to have a curiosity about the mass of humanity that is Minnesota offensive tackle Daniel Faalele. There was a buzz of reporters looking to interview him at the media breakfast event Wednesday morning. Ironically, the biggest player in the Senior Bowl program was difficult to find. He was seated on the floor close to the barrier in a corner, speaking in a hushed tone to the reporters that could find him about his experiences, his NFL journey and, of course, his size.
When Faalele is drafted he’ll edge out fellow right tackle Trent Brown of the New England Patriots by a slim margin as the NFL’s largest player. He knows. He doesn’t care. It’s nothing new.
“I mean, I was the biggest player in college and in high school, right? I’m used to it.”
What the former Golden Gopher does care about is continuing to perfect his craft. But even before he became a blot on the prospect map of the 2022 NFL Draft, he had to accommodate to the sport just six year ago when he moved to the United States and began playing football at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida in 2016.
He spent that first season just practicing and nailing down the most base fundamentals of football. He leaned on two future NFL offensive linemen to teach him the game: New Orleans Saints center Cesar Ruiz and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tackle Robert Hainsey.
“They were able to help me just by leading by example and by giving me pointers about the basics of football, the rules or the language, the terminology,” Faalele said. He tossed in mention that he and his roommates would play Madden video games to hammer home those basics of the sport.
Whether doubter or supporter, no one can reasonably dismiss Faalele’s impressively quick adaptation. With 2016 being strictly a learning season and opting out in 2020, the 22-year-old only has four years of actual playing experience.
To be a quarter inch short of 6’9” and three pounds shy of 390, jumping in and playing right tackle at a high level and eventually fighting to be a first round pick four playing years later is no small feat. As he grew into the shadowcasting colossus he is today, Faalele grew up in Melbourne, Australia playing rugby and basketball. He credits his experience with those sports in allowing him to move his massive frame with the agility that wows so many scouts.
“Like in basketball, we’re always doing shuffles in general and slides,” Faalele said. “But I was able to work my craft at IMG at an early age. We did a lot of footwork stuff there and technique stuff, so I feel like I’ve worked on it my whole career.”
Naturally, Faalele’s inexperience in the sport is an aspect of his profile that weighs down his draft stock. But just as he explained he likes the challenge of improving his physical traits such as dealing with inside speed rushes and utilizing his frame correctly in his technique, Faalele also finds joy in growing his knowledge of football and his position along the offensive line.
“That’s what I love about football,” he said. “I feel like there’s always something new to learn, something more to get better at. Yeah, I feel like I can get better.”
Faalele made it clear he’s not just looking to learn everything necessary to be a starting right tackle, he’s willing to learn a new position if necessary and sees no shame in moving to guard nor shows a demand to flip to the left side of the formation.
“I’m just happy to play whatever,” Faalele said. “I just want to be out there and that’s been my goal since day one. I don’t know why my career has just turned out at right tackle. I would have liked to be developed more at different positions, but I think with getting the right coaching and the right development, I can play anywhere.”
Either way, getting on the field for meaningful snaps in 2022 is where the big guy wants to be. Stacking up in a steep tackle class and drawing positive attention about his game instead of simply his size is a crucial step.
“I feel like I’m right there with everyone. I hold a high expectation for myself.”
As he should. He’s been at the top of his class at every other level. He’s used to it.