He has the qualities Scot McCloughan likes, which is why the Washington Redskins' general manager ignored the measurables and focused on what Steven Daniels could add. The Redskins want the defense to play a certain way, so McCloughan found players who had a certain mindset.
He didn’t wow anyone with his speed (4.86 seconds in the 40-yard dash). Nor is he considered the ideal size for inside linebacker at 5-foot-11 and 243 pounds. He was pegged by draft analysts as a two-down linebacker who was limited athletically.
But McCloughan kept seeing Daniels, a seventh-round pick from Boston College, do one thing on tape: hit. And he knew that he was a leader of the defense. So McCloughan wanted him around as a guy who could spread the culture the Redskins are building. Daniels could develop into a future starter, or he might just be a special-teamer and backup.
Regardless, he’s the sort of player McCloughan loves. In some ways, he’s a bit like safety Kyshoen Jarrett was last season. Jarrett was an undersized safety who did a little of everything his first season -- from nickel corner to safety to special teams -- until he suffered nerve damage in the regular-season finale.
These players are usually smart, tough and hard workers. The more players like that who stick on the roster, the more you have the culture you want. It’s necessary for starters to be this way; it’s imperative for backups to have this mindset. A few years ago the Redskins had backups who balked at playing on special teams, thinking it was beneath them. It showed on the field.
Here’s what Daniels’ defensive coordinator at Boston College, Don Brown, said about him during his sophomore season: “He’s a focused guy, he gets concepts, and it’s important to him. Doing the right things are important to him. Plus, he’s a load now. He’ll bang you around in the run game, but he can also rush the passer. He’s a real versatile guy."
That same year, Boston College linebacker Steele Divitto said, “You can see he loves the game, too, which is something really special.”
And that’s what led him to the Redskins and McCloughan.
It won’t be easy for Daniels, who attended the same high school as Carolina standout inside linebacker Luke Kuechly, to make the roster. At inside linebacker, the Redskins already have Will Compton, Mason Foster, Perry Riley, Martrell Spaight, Terence Garvin and Adam Hayward. Each one has a role: Compton, Foster and Riley will compete for the two starting jobs; Spaight is last year’s version of Daniels; and Garvin and Hayward are experienced special-teamers. It helps that the Redskins have an inside linebackers coach in Kirk Olivadotti with a good reputation for developing players.
One reason you can absorb players such as Daniels: players such as Su'a Cravens. If the Redskins have versatile players who can handle a specific role like Cravens as a nickel/dime linebacker, they can afford to keep others who are just considered run stuffers (though Daniels had a knack for rushing the passer, too).
But in the seventh round you’re hoping for a contributor. So if in the end it’s just about special teams and helping the culture, Daniels becomes a wise investment.
“Not pretty, not going to run the fastest 40, but really tough,” McCloughan said of Daniels. “He has [special] teams value and brings the kind of culture I want to keep bringing in, especially late in the draft. He brings in a competitiveness and a toughness that he isn’t going to back down from anybody. You’re going to have to beat him out to get him out of here, and that’s what I want.
“I respect the value of an inside linebacker. They have got substance and when they hit you, you go backwards. Running back to quarterback to receiver, whoever he hits goes backwards. That’s just a physical strength that you can’t develop. You either have it or you don’t have it. He’ll knock his own players out if he has to trying to get to the ball.”