Attitude. Aggressive. Anchor. These are all terms that could describe what Mike Daniels has brought to the Packers defense since 2014. Yes, Mike Daniels was drafted in 2012, but was not expected to be a strong leader and defensive anchor since the defense had players like B.J Raji, Ryan Pickett, and Clay Matthews. Mike Daniels did not shy away from leading the defense the last few seasons. He was a vocal leader on and off the field for the Packers, but after a disappointing 2018 season that ended with him on IR, he is ready to get back to dominating offensive lines. I believe Mike Daniels is going to have the best year of his career, and here is why:
Revamped Defensive Line:
The Packers have a completely new defensive unit coming into the 2019 season. They added key players via free agency and the draft. Looking at their defensive line, the Packers let two veteran players in Clay Matthews and Muhammad Wilkerson leave in free agency and released Nick Perry. Perry and Matthews are two former first round picks that have been staples of the Packers defense since 2010 and 2012 respectively. Muhammad Wilkerson was the big free agent signing of 2018 for the Packers, but after a season that ended in week 3, they decided to move on. After having a lackluster defense in 2018 and losing those players, the Packers started free agency strong and signed two strong defensive edge rushers in Za’Darius and Preston Smith. They also spent their 12th overall pick on a strong, explosive pass rusher in Rashan Gary, and a 5th round pick on Kingsley Keke who is a strong defensive tackle from Texas A&M.
These new additions are huge for Mike Daniels because when you look at his best seasons with the Packers, they came when he had help on the defensive line. Daniels recorded the most sacks of his career, 6.5, in 2013. When we take a look at the defensive line that year, they had veterans in BJ Raji, Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly, and a Clay Matthews who was fresh off of a Pro-Bowl season. With all of these studs surrounding Mike Daniels, he could be used in different schemes and as a situational rusher. Mike Daniels is a high motor player, so when he isn’t expected to dominate every single down, he is more impactful for the defense. Mike Daniels most productive season came in 2014 when he had 5 sacks, 47 tackles of which 8 were for a loss, and 17 QB hits. That just so happened to be the year that the Packers brought in future hall of famer Julius Peppers. Mike Daniels had two forces rushing the edges which allowed Mike Daniels to have more freedom on the inside. Now insert two athletic freaks in Za’Darius Smith, who can also rush inside, Preston Smith, Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark will wreak havoc on the inside. Add Rashan Gary into the mix, and the Packers have one of the most lethal pass rushes in the NFL.
Young, Hungry Secondary:
The defensive line is not the only part of the Packers defense that has evolved. The Packers have also invested in their secondary over the past three off-seasons. The Packers have drafted five cornerbacks over the past two drafts bringing in Kevin King, Josh Jones, Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, and Ka’dar Hollman. They also drafted a playmaker in Darnell Savage and signed Adrian Amos to sure up both safety positions.
But what does this have to do with Mike Daniels? That is exactly what I would be thinking if I read all the changes to the secondary, but this could be the key to bringing back Mike Daniels’ dominance. This was also the case in 2013-2016 when Daniels was able to play with players like young Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Morgan Burnett, and Casey Hayward. Mike Daniels was able to give his best seasons because of the pieces around him.
Looking again to this coming season, Alexander has proven, especially in week 8 against the Rams, that he can be a shutdown corner. Adrian Amos also brings veteran leadership and someone who is always follows his assignment. Darnell Savage potentially brings a level of playmaking to the secondary that it has not had since Charles Woodson. I am not comparing the two players or saying Savage will have the same career as Woodson, but he has playmaking abilities the Packers have lacked since Woodson left. Mike Daniels is not the only player who will benefit from the improved secondary. The better the secondary covers, the more opportunities the defensive line has to force sacks or throw aways.
As Packer fans, you have a lot of experience in a quarterback throwing the ball away because of good coverage.
Dolla dolla bills ya’ll. Quite simply, money motivates. Players are known to play well during the final year of their contract because one great season can earn them millions. Packers have experienced this most recently with Nick Perry. He recorded his career high, 11 sacks, signs a huge contract and immediately regressed each of the following years. Mike Daniels last contract year was in 2015 where he was a defensive force, and I expect he will do all he can to earn himself a contract close to his last 4 year/ $42 million one he signed in December of 2015.
Luckily for the Packers, he has also shown that he is someone who will put in the effort after he signs a new contract. Here is proof from against the Seahawks in week 1 of 2016.
Mike Daniels is coming of a season that ended with him watching the team from the sideline. He is ready to return to a reinvigorated defense, and have the best year of his career.