Anatomy of the Steelers drafts is an ongoing series leading up to the NFL Draft which examines the successes and failures of past Pittsburgh draft choices.
Today's article focuses on the Steelers 2014 sixth round draft pick, Daniel McCullers.
Easily one of the largest athletes during his time in college, and also now in the pros, McCullers has been playfully called many nicknames, including "Big Dan" and "Shade Tree". The Steelers made waves by selecting the massive defensive tackle, and four-year starter with the Volunteers, in the sixth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
McCullers NFL.com Draft Profile is intriguing to look back on:
"A big-boned, short-area plugger with some underachiever traits, McCullers has raw tools that could become special if he learns to harness the innate strength in his body and pairs with a DL coach who can refine his mechanics."
But that's not what stands out the most: NFL.com listed McCullers as a projected second/third round pick. Landing him several rounds later was a tremendous value, of course depending on where the Steelers had him on their own draft board.
The need was a great one. The Steelers were still attempting to replace several outstanding defensive linemen. Defensive end Aaron Smith retired early. Casey Hampton played a full career, but his potential suitors hadn't panned out. Pittsburgh was also trying to move on from Brett Keisel (who hadn't re-signed with the team until August of the same year).
While Cameron Heyward was a shining star, several other picks were underwhelming. Nick Williams, Ra'shon Harris, Thadeus Gibson and Doug Worthington are long forgotten names in Pittsburgh. That's okay because most of those players were late round flyers. However, a "bigger" investment was made in the fourth round of 2012 (two seasons earlier) with the selection of nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu. Ta'amu was to inherit Hampton's role on the defense but found himself on-and-off of the roster due to off-field issues.
With Stephon Tuitt arriving earlier in the same draft as McCullers, the Steelers could now focus on a traditional defensive tackle. "Big Dan" would be that pick.
The Other Picks
As the compensatory selections started in the sixth round, the New York Jets took WR Quincy Enunwa off the board, while two picks before Pittsburgh was on the clock, the Jets struck again by drafting QB Tajh Boyd. Boyd would later go to camp with the Steelers but never took a preseason snap.
OT Mitchell Van Dyk is another player who would enter a Steelers camp but would get picked following the selection of McCullers. Tight end Rob Blanchflower would be selected shortly around the same time by Pittsburgh (several picks later in the seventh round) while the only other player of note is Green Bay Packers WR Jeff Janis.
2017 could be the make or break year for McCullers' NFL career. McCullers story has yet to be fully written, but he enters the last year of his rookie deal this season, after being passed over for starting roles by former Steeler Steve McLendon and 2016 third round draft pick Javon Hargrave. Big Dan finds himself as more of a situational player (i.e. goal line packages) and a special teams player than an effective every down player. In McCullers' defense, Pittsburgh hasn't used a true 3-4 package for more than 1/3 of their defensive plays in years. In a pass happy league, linemen are often removed for defensive backs to cover receivers. This further limits the time McCullers has seen on the field and could make his render his services obsolete in the near future.
Inside The Pittsburgh Steelers plans for the 2017 NFL Draft
For those who were asking about this year's NFL Draft preview guide, we took your suggestions and turned up the volume 10x more with this new eBook. We spent countless hours putting together the statistics and information, much more than in our Draft Prep series, including rankings and combine results. We've priced Steelers War Room so we didn't kill ourselves by working for peanuts, but also so it won't cost you much more than a cup of coffee.