For the Green Bay Packers, Mike Daniels is the kind of player they absolutely had to sign.
First of all, he’s really good. Some people in the league put great value into the player rankings at Pro Football Focus. Others think they’re laughable. So, take this for what it’s worth, but Daniels checks in as the second-best 3-4 defensive end in the league. Only Houston’s indomitable J.J. Watt is ahead of Daniels.
Second, he’s a home-grown talent at a position in which the Packers have had all sorts of difficulties producing home-grown talent. Since Ted Thompson started drafting for Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme in 2009, he’s selected 11 defensive linemen: B.J. Raji (first round) and Jarius Wynn (sixth) in 2009, Mike Neal (second) and C.J. Wilson (seventh) in 2010, Lawrence Guy (seventh) in 2011, Jerel Worthy (second) and Daniels (fourth) in 2012, Datone Jones (first) and Josh Boyd (fifth) in 2013, Khyri Thornton (third) in 2014 and Christian Ringo (sixth) in 2015. Of that group, only Raji, Daniels and Jones are playing on the defensive line for this year’s team. The Packers have invested five picks on defensive linemen in the first three rounds of those seven drafts. Only Raji is starting, as he’s flanked by Daniels and undrafted Mike Pennel.
Third, and most importantly when $42 million business decisions are made, Daniels isn’t the type of player to get fat and happy while admiring all the zeroes in his checking account. This contract won’t be the finish line.
“I’ve been getting better every year,” Daniels said. “Even after this season, I plan on getting better. That’s just my mentality is to take the next step every day, every week, every month, every year and so forth.”
Daniels’ career has been one of consistent improvement. In 2013, his second season, Daniels emerged as a standout situational pass rusher with 6.5 sacks. Last season, Daniels moved into the starting lineup and focused more on stopping the run, collecting a unit-high 69 tackles to go with 5.5 sacks. This season has been his best. He entered Sunday’s game with 56 tackles and four sacks.
“He’s always been a good run player, he’s always been a good, physical rusher,” defensive line coach Mike Trgovac said recently. “As players mature and get better, they get better at each. From the time he got here until now, I would hope this is the best that he’s played. This is his fourth year. Mike takes everything he does very seriously and he tries to build on his past successes. We hope he’s going to be better next year. He’s very conscious of trying to build off of the things that he did well from the year before. The things that he didn’t do well, he wants to know them and see them and look at them and study them and how to improve on those. He’s a real conscientious guy that way.”
Daniels is a self-made man. As a 225-pound defensive lineman and running back in New Jersey, Daniels sent his highlight tape to schools all over the nation. Only one big school took interest: Iowa. He worked himself into a two-year starter with the Hawkeyes. And in Green Bay, he hasn’t missed a game due to injury in four seasons.
On Monday, Daniels got his reward — a four-year contract extension that will keep him in Green Bay through the 2019 season.
“I feel like I’ve been growing every year,” Daniels said. “I’ve been making it my business to get better every single day. You put together 365 days of getting better, that’s a whole year of getting better. My mentality is to always get better. I’d like to think my play is just a result of my work.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.