BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino
There was quite the buzz about defensive tackle Daniel McCullers when he signed with the University of Tennessee after playing junior college football at Georgia Military College. It’s been rumored that McCullers is one of the largest men to ever wear a Volunteer uniform. He’s known to have weighed as much as 400 pounds, but is listed anywhere between 360 and 380 pounds while standing 6’8″, according to Tennessee’s official website.
McCullers finished his first year at Tennessee with 39 tackles, 5.5 for loss and one sack. Those are solid numbers for a guy who is asked to occupy blockers and allow linebackers to run and make plays. The 2013 season will be pivotal in figuring out if McCullers is worthy of a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Why You Should Watch McCullers
McCullers is a mountain of a man, and he seems immovable at times. He is a true two-gap player who projects as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defensive alignment. He takes on and commands double teams.
McCullers had a particularly strong showing against Alabama in 2012, when he faced Chance Warmack and Barret Jones.
McCullers is able to get strong penetration up the middle and push the pocket. He is an excellent bull rusher who can bring pressure on passing downs. His combination of push and height causes the quarterback to alter throws on a regular basis.
McCullers has a great overall feel for stopping the run. He can effectively read opposing linemen and fight pressure with pressure. He is not only large in stature, but his overall strength allows him to control the line of scrimmage. He really knows how to stay in his run fits.
Even at his size, McCullers has great movement skills and isn’t someone who you can criticize for taking plays off. He runs to the football on every down and has made some tackles down the field that you wouldn’t expect from a 360-pounder.
McCullers does a great job squeezing down when his lineman blocks down. He does not allow his opponent to cross his face.
What McCullers Needs to Prove in 2013
McCullers needs to play with better overall pad level, especially for his height. He has a tendency to stand straight up when the ball is snapped.
When playing the 3-technique position, he doesn’t always handle down blocks from the tackle well. Better awareness in this area would help.
McCullers has only played in 12 games with seven starts, as last year was his first season in the non-JUCO ranks. He needs to put together another solid year of production to solidify his draft stock.
While McCullers is an excellent bull rusher, he has no other pass rush moves. He gets great penetration but doesn’t have real ability to shed and make plays. His only sack came in the season finale against Kentucky.
Overall, it would be great to see McCullers make more plays in the backfield. Film shows he is often in position to make plays, but needs to improve his ability to shed blockers to increase his tackles for loss numbers.
With players as large as McCullers, you always have to be concerned about weight. I’d like him to get down to the 330-340 pound range and stay there.
Projecting McCullers’ Draft Stock
If you’re a 3-4 team in need of a nose tackle, McCullers is your guy in the 2014 NFL draft. I don’t think playing in the 4-3 is out of the question, but I prefer more athleticism for a defensive tackle in that scheme.
McCullers is a player who scouts will pay close attention to in his second year at Tennessee. He projects as a likely late first-round pick.