Small-School LB Promises Big Impact

The San Diego Chargers would like to draft a pass-rusher, as the team has averaged just 31.5 sacks the last two seasons after averaging 51.5 the two years prior. But with more pressing needs at running back and on both lines, this late-round sleeper may make the most sense.

Five years ago, Danny Batten had a decision to make.

Either go to South Dakota State and play football or accept an invitation to play on the United States' U-19 rugby team.

That decision wasn't as tough as it sounds.

"It was for about 10 minutes but then I came back down to earth, per se, and I realized I had an opportunity to pay for my college education," Batten said. "Who knows from there? Possibly play in the NFL. I'm definitely happy with the decision that I made. Rugby was just a hobby that I fell in love with at the time."

Batten was an honorable mention on FCS All-American teams as a sophomore and junior before earning first-team honors as a senior. The 6-foot-2, 244-pounder recorded nine sacks and 17 tackles for losses in 2009, finishing third for the Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in FCS.

OLB Danny Batten
South Dakota State
A collegiate defensive end, Batten will be moving to linebacker in the NFL — either as an outside linebacker or inside linebacker, depending on which team grabs him with a late-round draft pick. He's flashed athletic ability and strength this offseason with a 4.66 40-yard dash, 35-inch vertical leap and 30 reps on the 225-pound bench press at his two Pro Day workouts.

"I have a pass rush background, so that helps me for the 3-4 outside backer, but I've shown that I can drop well and I can cover and I can fill the gaps, so inside isn't out of the question, either. I'd love to play either," Batten said.

Batten took the initiative to start learning inside linebacker. At the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game, he said there were 10 defensive ends/outside linebackers but only three inside linebackers.

"I decided to play inside and have more of a chance to shine there," he said. "It went real well. I felt real natural at it. I'm raw technique-wise but I showed that I'm not afraid to come up and fill the holes and I play hard and I can move around well in pass coverage. Teams think that's a plus because they can mold me into exactly what technique they want."

That versatility would make him a good fit in San Diego. At outside linebacker, Shawne Merriman is likely entering his final season with the Chargers. At inside linebacker, Stephen Cooper, Kevin Burnett and Tim Dobbins can all become free agents after the season.

"They like my intensity and they like my motor," Batten said of what he's hearing from teams. "That's been the main focus from most teams. They can see from film that I'm a guy that's all business on the field. I play hard every single play and give 110 percent. I think that goes a long way for the GMs and head coaches and position coaches. There's a lot of guys that don't play like that."

Batten said he's got nothing special planned for draft weekend, and will "pray for a phone call" while hanging out with his family.

"Coming from a smaller school, it's crazy," he said. "This is what I've always dreamed of. I've been playing tackle football since I was 8 years old and never missed a season. I feel like it's going to happen, and if it does, it will be the greatest day of my life. It is my dream."

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