49ers 2021 ‘Who Is?’ series: Darrion Daniels faces uphill battle
By Peter Panacy
49ers reserve Darrion Daniels was pressed into necessary service last year, but other D-line additions will make it tough for him to make the 2021 roster.
A season ago, San Francisco 49ers then-rookie defensive lineman Darrion Daniels became something of a training camp hero, serenading his way into his teammates’ hearts and becoming quite the team’s cult favorite.
But that wasn’t enough for the undrafted free agent out of Nebraska to survive initial roster cuts, and Daniels subsequently found himself landing on the Niners practice squad in year one.
Yet San Francisco’s massive injury attrition in 2020 opened up the door for Daniels to see some practical field time. Called up for four games in October, November and December, Daniels would end up recording four tackles over the course of 66 total defensive snaps.
While it was great news for Daniels to contribute, albeit in a limited fashion last year, the 49ers spent considerable effort this offseason to guard against further injury to their defensive line.
A number of new faces, combined with players returning from injuries, could ultimately make it impossible for Daniels to crack the 53-man roster again in 2021.
Let’s take a look at Daniels’ chances in our latest “Who is?” installment.
Why Darrion Daniels improves with 49ers in 2021
Aside from having a likable personality, which is always a bonus, the 6-foot-4, 325-pound Daniels has shown the ability to be a decent 1-technique backup with a knack for causing interior disruption and making it difficult for running backs to get by him. And as his collegiate NFL Draft scouting report suggested, Daniels can occasionally flash the splash play from time to time, which is never a bad thing for a depth rotational player.
A second year under Niners defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, a coach known for getting the most out of less-known players, could do wonders for Daniels.
And if Daniels winds up honing some of his technique, there’d be room for him on the back end of the D-line depth chart.
Why Darrion Daniels bottoms out with 49ers in 2021
Daniels isn’t much of a pass-rushing specialist from the interior and boasted a mere 2.5 sacks split between five years at Nebraska and Oklahoma State.
One of the reasons why Daniels went undrafted is his lack of technique, and despite his size, Daniels has never shown the brute strength to overpower interior blockers and wreak havoc within the pocket.
Those traits are likely to work against him in any further development, and the fact he’s also bringing a lengthy history of injuries from the collegiate levels won’t improve his roster stock either.
Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster
It would be one thing if San Francisco was thin on interior 1-technique defenders. But after re-signing the presumed starter, D.J. Jones, while also going out and bringing aboard free agents like Zach Kerr and Maurice Hurst, even the immediate reserve interior linemen already look awfully deep.
And they’ll only serve to push Daniels deep down the pecking order.
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Daniels does fit that short, squatty build the 49ers have employed in base formations for 1-technique players, but the same can be applied to players like Kerr, who figures to have a significantly greater chance of making the 53-man roster this season.
Also working against Daniels’ favor is the fact he carries zero in guaranteed money on his contract, so the Niners won’t have any financial obligations to him if he winds up being waived or let go.
A return to the practice squad is certainly a possibility here, as Daniels still meets the pre-2020 rules for eligibility. But to reach any higher, he’ll likely have to beat out Kerr or Hurst to hang around after the preseason.
And to do that, Daniels must shine in training camp above being just a solid voice, and he’ll also have to make waves during the preseason, too.
Even those efforts may not be enough.