When Daniel McCullers came onto the scene in Knoxville out of junior college, he was listed at an astounding 6’6” 377lbs and simply dwarfed other players in a game played by giants. After a strong first year for Tennessee, McCullers came back this year as a senior in better shape, lighter and more consistently disruptive at the center of the Volunteer defense. The results have been a substantially more productive McCullers who has not only made more plays in general, but made more plays on the opponent’s side of the line of scrimmage. Rather than simply being a facilitator which he was much of last year, he has more of a playmaker this season.
McCullers is the ultimate interior presence when it comes to stopping the run as he demands double teams or the opponent running away from him. He is an overpowering force in the interior of the defensive line and is immovable, but when his motor is going and he is moving, he becomes a disruptive force that can collapse the pocket and becomes a terrifying pass rushing presence. His range and quickness can be surprising to opponents, especially when it comes to working laterally.
McCullers needs to continue to work on improving his stamina and being more consistent from play to play in terms of effort and technique, and continue to work on improving his leverage. Issues aside, McCullers’ value as an immediate run player as a two down run stopper with the potential to get even better and do more as a pass rusher with time, it is hard to imagine he will get out of the top 50 and it would not be a surprise if McCullers works out better than some expect and has a nice showing in the postseason process to establish himself as a surefire first rounder with the potential to go pretty high in the first round.
Vitals & Build
After being listed at 6’6” 377lbs last year, McCullers came in significantly lighter this year but is now also listed two inches taller. This year, he is listed at 6’8” 351lbs. It is a little inhuman just how well McCullers seems to carry that much weight with a small of weight showing around the midsection. McCullers should work to continue losing weight and get closer to the 335-340lb range or even lower. He is always going to be massive and virtually impossible to move or stop, so making it so he can play more snaps and be more impactful when he is in is the best way to maximize his abilities.
McCullers is unbelievably strong, especially because of his height and how often he has to move opponents who have a significant leverage advantage against him. When fresh and motivated, McCullers is a far better athlete than many will give him credit for because of his size. He is by no means fast but he can close in a hurry and because of his size, likely looks faster when coming up in the pocket. He demonstrates pretty good short area agility working laterally.
The question with McCullers as with anyone of his size is motor and how often teams can get the best of him as well as his weight. McCullers has gotten substantially better from last year in this area. Losing weight obviously helped but his conditioning is also improved. With additional weight loss and continued work to help his conditioning he can get even better. The other area that will leave teams concerned is how easily can McCullers go wrong and eat himself back up to that scary 377lb number or more. In terms of his potential, it is all about the number of snaps a team can get from him at 100%. He is always going to be a boulder to move, but if teams can get closer to 20-30 snaps at full go or closer to 40-50 plays at his max effort will be the height of his physical potential.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
McCullers actually seemed to do a better job with snap anticipation last year. He always seemed to get off the snap quickly and while he was not always bringing a violent first step, he was always getting a step up the field. This year, there are a number of examples where McCullers is late off of the snap and ends up rolling out of his stance, giving the opponent trying to block him an advantage and being able to prepare for where McCullers is going to be or setting him up for the block. McCullers can recover but he is giving them an advantage he has no reason to surrender.
When he is somewhat tired, he typically goes with a short term and looks for who and how many he has to move. The times he is fresh, McCullers displays a quick, hard step that allows him to show a good amount of explosion and attack up field. When he employs this one, he makes it incredibly difficult for opponents to block him and his momentum becomes too much to handle for most opponents.
The one thing McCullers can work to improve but will forever have a problem with is leverage. At his size and his height, there is only so far down he can go, but he needs to avoid standing straight up as it forces him to work harder when he gets to the opponent. If he can fire out a little lower, it will make his first step better and faster as well as making it so he does not have to work so hard to beat opponents.
McCullers does not do much in terms of shedding when it comes to using moves. He puts the opponent at a disadvantage and simply tosses them out of the way. For the most part, he uses good hand placement that allows him to do this but most of the time, he is simply bench pressing opponents, knocking them off balance and then just tossing them aside or driving them into the backfield. What is scary is when he has each arm on an opponent and drives them both into backfield completely disrupting the play.
There are times when McCullers will just drive one arm into an opponent’s shoulder and crumples them so he can swim inside and make a play.
This is where McCullers makes his biggest impact as he takes up space, does not give up ground, and has the ability to collapse the pocket, shed blocks, and make plays. McCullers causes opponents to change their offensive approach with running the ball. The only way opponents can block him one on one is if they are running away from him and that is not always enough. He typically demands double teams and makes it incredibly hard for opponents to run the ball in the middle while making it so the linebackers are free to roam around and make plays.
He does not give up ground or get knocked off balance often this year, but he can get tripped up and is always going to be a target of opponents to cut because of his size and specifically his height. McCullers seems to have a good sense of how to set himself to hold his ground and really make it so he is immovable. His sheer mass combined with his strength and his remarkable arm length allows him to keep opponents out of his body and prevent them from getting their best shot at him.
When his motor is running, McCullers fires off the ball and collapses the pocket while he locates the ball and when he finds it, he throws his blocker out of the way and goes for the tackle. Even as big as he is, he is able to contort his body quickly so he will take opponents by surprise with how quickly he is able to bend, extend his body, and take down an opposing ball carrier which improves his range and effective area impressive as a player really makes him dangerous patrolling the middle of the line. McCullers also will slow play at times, perhaps because he is tired and will go to another gear and show quickness as he closes the distance and makes a tackle.
When McCullers is tired and trying to catch his wind, he will take a step or two and simply bench press the guy who is in front of him. He still does his job in terms of holding his ground and shoving an opponent into the backfield to help teammates have the ability to make plays, but he is in a position where he can seemingly regain some energy for a snap or few. Â It is difficult to know if this will work in the NFL, but it has been effective for him to this point.
McCullers is a guy who demands a double team and the times he is blocked one on one, the only thing that is stopping McCullers is his stamina. Even the bluest of the blue chip players have been humbled by his strength at times in his career, so he has made it clear he can be an impact player at the next level. The key with McCullers is always going to be how far he can go and how far he can push his body.
McCullers is not doing anything fancy when it comes to rushing the passer. He simply bulldozes an opponent into the quarterback or knocks the lineman off balance enough until he can simply toss him aside. McCullers is not a major pass rushing threat in terms of putting up numbers, but when his motor is going, he collapses the pocket and significantly changes the amount of room a quarterback has to throw as well as taking away an escape route for when his teammates come off the edge. And then obviously if he connects with the quarterback, he is simply an enormous man with incredible power so there is definitely a threat that he will do damage and potentially hurt the opposing passer and has. The terror factor cannot be ignored as quarterbacks notice this bull charging towards them and that can result in a panicked decision whether it is a bad decision, hurried throw, or finding a place to go down that is not in his path.
The one thing McCullers can continue to work on and improve is putting his arms up when he is not going to get to the quarterback in an attempt to deflect passes. Because of his height and how often he is able to get in the backfield, he could get in position to knock down a number of passes and only had one this past season.
By virtue of his height, size, and power, McCullers can also be a contributor on special teams, specifically when it comes to blocked field goals. When he fires off the ball, is able to collapse the pocket and reach those long arms up, he is definitely someone who can deflect a kick. And this is another situation where is intimidating size may get in a kicker’s head and cause him to adjust his kick to avoid McCullers and ends up missing the field goal as a result.
McCullers’ best fit is as a traditional nose tackle in the middle of a 3 man front, but he might be too tempting to pass up for some teams running the 4-3 as well. He is a tremendous run clogger that wreaks havoc in the middle of the line and disrupts running plays and protects his linebackers to enable them to run around and make plays. He is a better fit in the 3-4 because his lack of pass rush ability is less of a problem there, but there will be 4-3 teams that look at him as the ideal 2-down run stopper and not care that he is not a great pass rush threat. Some of the teams that would be a great fit for McCullers would include Pittsburgh, Cleveland, San Francisco, Baltimore, Green Bay, and San Diego, but again, teams running a 4-3 in on McCullers will certainly outnumber those who are not.
With the news of McCullers’ height and if he comes in anywhere near that 6’8” height he has been listed, he compares to former Johnathan Henderson, most notably of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Henderson came out at 6’7” but was 335lbs at least when he left college. That number went north as his career progressed which hurt his ability to be the impact player he was initially. He was always an incredibly tough player to move but when he was lighter, he was a monster up front and as good as he was against the run, had 15.5 sacks in his first three years. He was able to compile 29 sacks overall in his 8 year career. It is unlikely that McCullers will pile up big time sack numbers but he could end up having this type of impact where he may get a few sacks per year but his impact is in his ability to create for teammates and shut down the run, which is what Henderson did so well.
Daniel McCullers looks ready to contribute right now and would likely be a top 50 pick if the draft were held today. He is simply overpowering in what he can do in the middle of the line and he has done it against extremely highly rated players who were drafted in the top half of the first round in the NFL Draft, so there is little reason to expect he will not be able to translate to the next level. In addition to simply continuing to work on his game, he should really consider continuing to drop more weight. It helps his motor, stamina, and his balance and he has seen how much of a different the loss of weight has made for him this year; it may only continue to get better and better with less of him to get in the way. The biggest areas to improve for McCullers come down to stamina, his motor and trying to work to play lower and with consistency. McCullers projects as a top 50 pick right now but has the chance to work his draft stock solidly into the first round pick as the best pure nose in the entire draft and the potential is there for him to go as high as the top 15 picks.
Some of the film used for this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com