By: Bill Tewes
For Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Daniels, nothing has ever come easy. Ever since being scouted out of high school and even being drafted in the 4th round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Daniels has had his fair share of naysayers and doubters. Most scouts referenced his height and athleticism as detriments to his ability to make a big impact on the field and that earned him a 2-star rating from rivals.com. So how did an undersized and less than stellar athlete like Daniels land a 4 year, $41-million-dollar contract and possibly end up cementing his legacy as one of Green Bay’s greatest pass rushers?
The answer lies in Daniels’ drive and determination. Daniels’ fierce nature and unshakeable will has propelled him into the upper echelon of NFL pass rushers. Even though he does not have the size or flashy numbers as say a Muhammad Wilkerson or J.J. Watt, Daniels is still a force to be reckoned with on every snap. In an interview with PackersNews writer Wes Hodkiewicz, Daniels stated: “”If I’m not going to be physically bigger than the guy who’s 350, then I’m going to play bigger than him. If I’m not going to be physically bigger than the guy who’s 6-4, then I’m going to play bigger than him. That’s just my mentality. I’m just going to keep bringing it.”
Take a look at this chart that was generated by Pro Football Focus regarding 2015’s best 3-4 pass rushers. Daniels graded out as the 4th ranked pass rusher and was right behind Muhammad Wilkerson, who is still waiting for the ink to dry on a freshly signed five-year, $86-million-dollar contract extension to remain with the New York Jets. Daniels most definitely could have got more on the open market, but chose to stay with Green Bay, a team that studied his skillset extensively and utilizes his motor to maximum capacity. It is clear that Daniels values playing for a Super Bowl caliber team over leaving for a bigger pay day.
In comparing the two players, it is quite evident that Green Bay is really getting a massive deal with Daniels signing for $10.25 million per year. It might come as a shock to some, but Daniels’ pass rush efficiency nearly matches Wilkerson’s, even with Wilkerson rushing the passer at a higher rate (347 snaps to Daniels 234). Also consider Green Bay’s defensive line is nowhere near the caliber of New York’s’ with Sheldon Richardson and soon to be star Leonard Williams in the trenches with Wilkerson.
Wilkerson’s 11.5 point pass rush productivity is only half a point higher than Daniels (11) and their percentage of total pressures to snaps is nearly identical (14.7% to 14.1%). If Daniels was afforded the role that Wilkerson has with the Jets, it would not be out of the question to see similar statistical productivity in the sack and tackle column.
It would also come as no surprise to see Daniels turn in the best year of his career with the pressure of contract negotiations off the table as well as a new look Packers defense. The Packers added key pieces through the draft in Kenny Clark and Blake Martinez who will look to make a significant impact this year as rookies. Clark will offer fresh legs in the middle and having a consistently solid player like Letroy Guion for another year will allow Green Bay to utilize Daniels all over the line.
I would expect Daniels to take a firm leadership role as he has already been a vocal locker-room guy and is definitely the teams’ de facto defensive captain (Packers use weekly captains as opposed to full time captains). Daniels will continue to work with young players such as Kenny Clark and Dean Lowry (also a 4th round pick) and hopefully instill in them the work ethic and determination that has made him into the key piece to what could become a championship caliber defense this year.