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Weighing The Roster Prospects Of Daniel McCullers


During the last ‘Live” segment hosted on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ website late last week, Mike Prisuta and Bob Labriola were discussing the second-year players on the roster and what to expect from them during this summer.

As they were discussing the pieces along the defensive line, Labriola said something that at first struck me as odd, even considering the early stage of the offseason that we’re in—or perhaps especially due to that.

“When you look at that position, the Steelers typically keep six or seven defensive linemen on the 53-man roster. By my count, there are five yeses: Cam Heyward, Cam Thomas, Stephon Tuitt, Steve McLendon, and Daniel McCullers”.

McCullers, a yes in early June?

Don’t get me wrong; I myself speculated in my first very early roster prediction that McCullers would be one of six defensive linemen to make the 53-man roster. But my prediction was written in sand, while Labriola’s sounded more like it was written in stone.

McCullers was described by head coach Mike Tomlin after the draft as a “size prospect”. In other words, they didn’t draft him because they believed that he is eminently talented and a highly productive player. They drafted him because he’s 6’7” and over 350 pounds and they believe they can mold him into a player down the road.

He is a big boy that has yet to fully understand how to play with his size. We’ve gone through multiple times already that he’s slow off the ball and needs to learn to play with leverage. He gets turned out of holes that a man his size should not.

But then I go back to my roster prediction and revisit why I have him on the roster. And then the broadcast begins to discuss nose tackle Hebron Fangupo, who managed to not record a tackle in his four appearances last season and effectively redshirted.

“He did defeat Alameda Ta’amu for the backup nose tackle job”, Labriola said, “and from what I was told, it was a fairly definitive win in training camp for Fangupo over Ta’amu. Haven’t seen anything since”.

Prisuta added, “that might not be enough this time around. There’s a lot of talk about guys that can play nose and end, particularly as it relates to Cam Thomas and Steve McLendon, or guys who can play end and then move inside and be a pass rushing force in the sub-package. I don’t know that Fangupo qualifies on either score there”.

“And again, to me, the presence of McCullers really complicates things in terms of Fangupo’s path to the 53-man roster”, Labriola concluded.

If Thomas does indeed begin the season as the starting left defensive end, then logic would suggest that he’s likely to take less reps at nose tackle. The Steelers will need another body on the roster that can play the position.

They had Al Woods last season, with Fangupo as the third option, but if Thomas is already in the starting lineup, they would either have to move him and play somebody else at defensive end should McLendon get injured, or just play another defensive end. Either way is likely to result in more nickel defense to get the nose tackle off the field anyway.

Even though McCullers is heavy, he’s far from sloppy. He has a large frame that supports his weight, and even John Mitchell said after the draft that he would look at eventually putting him at defensive end. Fangupo lacks that flexibility.

Though I wouldn’t go so far as to give McCullers a ‘yes’ in early June, it does seem to me that there is indeed a logical path for McCullers to make the roster as a rookie. If he drops a bit of weight and gets some work at defensive end, and Thomas wins a starting job at defensive end, then I think McCullers looks pretty appealing, and could serve as a sixth or seventh lineman.

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About Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Melly

    I’m rooting for this guy. But I’m guessing he makes the PS?!

  • CuldesacBill

    I would agree that he has a better chance at making the practice squad. I just don’t see them keeping a project like him on the 53 man roster.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    He’s the most interesting guy we drafted from a roster and rating perspective. The draft reviews all talk about how he isn’t that good but rate him right about the 100th prospect. They seem to like him an dismiss him in the same paragraph.

    I expect the problem to be that he wont help this year but that his potential is worth keeping and that someone will take him if we try to run him through waivers.

  • 20Stoney

    I agree that he probably belongs on the practice squad. Having him as one of five to make the team really speaks to the depth we have on the DL.

  • Biophys

    Unless he gets a lot quicker off the snap, he won’t see the field– regardless of whether or not he makes the 53.

  • Jim McCarley

    Can you say…THE FRIDGE!!!!!

  • wilsonmjw

    He would be valuable on FGs and goal line situations the minute he gets off the bus.

  • Smashmouth

    I’d say he’s more of a walk in meat locker lol

  • Smashmouth

    Hampton wasn’t the speediest off the snap either i think his ability to clog up the middle would be more in line with why he was drafted his major drawback is he hasn’t learned how to use his leverage correctly

  • Axe Skot

    What about Williams?

  • blackandgoldBullion

    still not ready anD Arnfelt might be ahead of him…. we shall see.

  • Louis Goetz

    I think McCullers is a shoe-in regardless of whether they keep six or seven d-lineman. We don’t have to talk about Heyward, Thomas, McClendon, or Tuitt. That’s four. If they only keep six, who are the two guys who are going to take spots over McCullers? There certainly aren’t three guys ahead of him if the Steelers keep seven lineman. I don’t think the question is whether or not McCullers gets a spot. In my opinion, the question is whether Keisel, Josh Mauro or both get spots.

  • PA2AK

    I think he’s gone if he hits the PS. Shouldn’t we be talking about 6 DL at a minimum? If they can teach him how to come out of his stance and use his leverage properly, he can improve greatly. Using him on FG/PAT blocks is an easy choice to get him involved early and give someone more valuable a break. It could happen. I’d rather see him make the 53 than to hit PS.

  • Skinny Merlino

    No reason to keep fangupo over him imo he brings nothing and is old McCullers at least has a shot a being something

  • Zach

    agreed — no way he lasts in the PS. That’s why they drafted him in the 6th round as he wouldn’t be available as a UDFA.

  • IckyD

    No- i think he gets a helmet; this kid is just starting to learn how to impose his will on opponents and his size makes him an asset as long as he simply doesn’t move backwards, and especially if he learns how to consistently block passing lanes with his size and long arms. That’s enough to win a hat i think..

  • Madi

    Hampton was incredibly quick off the snap, his entire career. Don’t get me wrong, he was the slowest guy on the team in any race lasting longer than a yard and a half. But for that first yard, he was explosive.

  • Madi

    Obviously all of this has to be hashed out over the course of preseason… But if I had to pick now, I go with:
    Heyward, McLendon, Tuitt, Thomas, McCullers, and either Arnfelt or Williams. I like both of those guys, but they are both very low investments. One coming off a bad injury. If they both look AMAZING you can keep both, but I don’t see that happening.

  • Jollyrob68

    I wouldn’t risk him to the practice squad. He can’t take Fangupo’s spot.

  • steeltown

    Yea I guess if C.Thomas proves capable at DE and is used there often while Tuitt gets up to speed then yes, McCullers should make the roster, even if he’s inactive initially on game days.

  • steeltown

    I think N.Williams will spend another yr on the practice squad, he’s still not full speed and at this point is behind guys like C.Thomas and Arnfelt

  • steeltown

    I think Arnfelt makes the club this year IMO McCullers will be battling guys like Fangupo, N.Williams, Mauro or Philon for that 6th or 7th spot

  • steeltown

    Indeed

  • Shannon Stephenson

    My thought process was simple in this matter. I look at what we have in Fangupo. A older guy who has little exp. or position flexibility and wasn’t talented enough to see the field much at all last year. We have McCuellers who is younger and has potential position flexibility with what I see as more upside. Unless Fangupo really kicks major tail in the preseason I just see him as a camp body.

  • ATL96STEELER

    I think if Brett wants to play for the vet min…he can, and McCullers won’t make it this yr…else, he makes it…Fang is done imo….if this guy can get down to 300 to 310 he could probably play DE…that’s where I see him having an impact if he develops.

  • HiVul

    Maybe this is unrealistic, but is it possible they see McCullers as something like a ST ace and that was one of the reasons they drafted him? All of a sudden it makes a NT who’s way too tall to play NT more valuable. Can you imagine trying to kick a 50+ yard field goal over that kind of length? IMO he could provide a real advantage. Maybe use him as a goal line blocker too, we’ve seen DEs act as 3rd TEs before.

  • PA2AK

    I think that may very well be an added benefit. I do however, hope they see some potential in shaping him into a solid NT player. The ST’s just may make him more versatile…something the FO/Coaches value.

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