The 49ers would be thrilled if UDFA defensive lineman Darrion Daniels can be a primary backup to nose tackle D.J. Jones.
Run-stuffing defensive linemen aren’t the priority they once were not too long ago, and players of this ilk generally are targeted either late in the NFL Draft or as undrafted free agents. As such, Daniels ended up finding his way to the Niners as a UDFA following the 2020 draft.
Daniels spent his first four seasons at the collegiate level with the Oklahoma State Cowboys before being a graduate transfer to Nebraska his senior year. An honorable-mention All-Big Ten selection, Daniels played eight games his final collegiate season as a team captain and amassed a career-high 27 tackles.
|*2015||Oklahoma State||Big 12||FR||DT||9||11||5||16||2.5||0.5||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|*2016||Oklahoma State||Big 12||SO||DT||11||9||6||15||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|*2017||Oklahoma State||Big 12||JR||DT||9||17||9||26||5.0||0.5||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|*2018||Oklahoma State||Big 12||SR||DT||4||4||3||7||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0||0||0|
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Daniels never flashed much of a pass-rushing prowess. But considering his would-be role for San Francisco right out of the gate, it shouldn’t matter too much. In an ideal world, the Niners would use him as a run-stuffing backup behind Jones, helping solidify the depth along the defensive line’s interior.
But Daniels is anything but a shoo-in to make the 49ers’ 53-man roster in 2020, and UDFA players often have a much tougher road to make it past the post-training camp cuts.
Whether or not he can is the subject of Niner Noise’s latest “Who Is?” installment.
Why Darrion Daniels improves with 49ers in 2020
Daniels’ 6-foot-3, 311-pound frame is what fans should understand about his apparent role and development for San Francisco’s defense.
Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh likes short, squatty 1-technique defensive linemen in base formations, and Daniels has that. Tack on his massive 81 3/4-inch wingspan, and it’s not hard to see why Daniels can eat up interior gaps and bring down ball carriers at the line of scrimmage.
On top of that, Daniels’ 5.18 40-yard time at the NFL Combine isn’t a bad number, so there’s some speed to his game, too.
Like Jones, Daniels is well-equipped to handle double teams in these formations and doesn’t tend to give ground in such situations. If he can capitalize on those efforts, his road to making the 53-man roster would be much easier.
Why Darrion Daniels regresses
While much of the game tape shows how well Daniels handles double blockers, there isn’t a lot that pops out about his efforts up front:
This is likely the direct result of poor leverage and hand usage, which aren’t particularly great. And one can see why there isn’t the notable athletic prowess in Daniels’ game either. If he gets locked up by a blocker, he tends to stay there and is mostly taken out of the play.
Plus, there’s almost zero pass-rushing prowess to Daniels, too. The stats back this up, and so does the above film. Getting penetration at the line of scrimmage simply isn’t something he does with any sort of regularity.
On top of that, Daniels has dealt with numerous injuries over his collegiate career, which could also hinder his development if something reoccurs early at the pro level.
Chances of making the 49ers’ 53-man roster in 2020
Daniels is surely on the roster bubble, and it’s a safe assumption it’s towards the weaker end. Despite the Niners losing Jones’ primary backup to free agency during the offseason, Sheldon Day, the team’s D-line remains one of the deepest units heading into training camp.
Simply put, there aren’t a lot of open spots behind the star-studded cast of Jones and the other former first-round draft picks.
Daniels does have a projected role as Jones’ No. 1 reserve, however, which bodes well for his chances. There aren’t too many other players with Daniels’ frame and build, yet one has to account for the fact run-stuffing nose tackles are relatively easy to find.
Because of that alone, Daniels will have to make a lot of strides in training camp and the preseason.
If he impresses enough, though, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Daniels pegged as a back-end roster addition early in the season. The practice squad is another strong possibility, too, if the Niners feel as if they have a player worth some serious development in coming years.