You've probably heard the phrase, "know your role" before, and for the most part, it comes with a negative connotation. It's meant to confine someone to a specific area or task without allowing them to advance any further. On the contrary, it's a wonderful thing in the NFL world. Successful teams are loaded with role players. Not everyone has to be a star. Kansas City Chiefs EDGE and fifth-round draft pick Mike Danna will likely turn out to be the former.
After amassing 151 tackles (27.5 for loss) and 15 sacks in three seasons with the Central Michigan Chippewas, Danna transferred to the University of Michigan for his final collegiate campaign. His numbers took a major step backward with the Wolverines, which was expected. The increase in difficulty when transitioning from the Mid-American Conference to the Big Ten is no joke. On top of that, playing behind Josh Uche, Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye was an obstacle Danna hadn't previously faced. He had his work cut out for him from the jump, and it showed.
In his piece on the state of the Chiefs' EDGE picture, Arrowhead Report's Sam Hays mentioned how, although Danna saw limited snaps in 2019, his previous season was impressive enough to make him an interesting addition to the defensive line. Per Pro Football Focus, Danna posted an 18.2 percent pressure rate in 2018, in addition to rounding out with a terrific 91.6 overall grade. He was one of the most productive pass-rushers in the country, in addition to being a stout run defender. Those numbers fell to 11.6 percent and 80.9, respectively, the following year. That's still fairly productive, but it doesn't tell the tale of what a full season's worth of snaps may have looked like.
At 6'2", 261 pounds, Danna's bread-and-butter stems from a power/pass-rush mix. His athleticism and overall size are mediocre at best, which are two red flags at the NFL level. Danna's variety of moves is respectable, but he oftentimes makes up his mind before the ball is snapped. His understanding of balance and gap control allows him to take advantage of opposing linemen's mistakes, but that's going to happen far less frequently in the pros. There is not an area in which Danna dominates, which puts a cap on his ceiling. On the other hand, he does have several traits that make him at least worth giving a look.
As previously mentioned, Danna is a smart player and a hard worker. When you aren't NFL-star levels of athletically gifted, you have to use your brain to make plays. Danna's motor revs high at all times, which can lead to some short-area explosiveness and added punch at the first point of contact. He spent a bit of time on the interior with Michigan, but he's likely a defensive end in the NFL. His days lining up as a 3-4 outside linebacker are probably over, especially because Spagnuolo's scheme is a 4-3 hybrid.
Danna knows what he's good at. He tries to win by overpowering his assignment, which worked quite often at Central Michigan. That technique wasn't nearly as successful with Michigan, and it's safe to assume there will be another dip in production as he transitions to the NFL. With that said, he's a savvy player with a willingness to work hard and give it his all on every play. His fifth-round draft slot comes with little added pressure and with a ton of other bodies in the defensive line room (Frank Clark, Alex Okafor, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Breeland Speaks, Taco Charlton), any playing time he gets will be hard-earned.
Danna was receiving extended looks in training camp before he went down with a calf injury. The Chiefs like what they have in him, and that's why they selected him in the draft when many thought he could have slipped and potentially even gone undrafted. He'll likely never be a star, and that's alright. All he has to do is continue building on what's brought him success so far, which is hard work and a high football IQ.