When the Kansas City Chiefs made him their fifth round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, many fans were wondering just who Mike Danna was. The grad transfer from Central Michigan finished his collegiate career at Michigan — and hadn’t received some of the attention that the other rushers in that system did.
Nevertheless, the Chiefs went out of their way to draft Danna midway through Day 3. Chiefs defensive line coach Brendan Daly and defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo both said that he will play defensive end but could kick inside — as Spagnuolo’s defensive ends typically do. Daly in particular seemed excited to get Danna on his defensive line, noting his excellent East-West Shrine Game and practices.
When I turned on Danna’s film, I really liked the effort, obvious football IQ and technique I saw — and I was excited to get to write his film review. By a stroke of luck, I was fortunate enough to have an exclusive interview with the man himself, talking about what he’ll be bringing to the Chiefs.
If you’d like to listen, click here to hear him talk about his excitement to play with Frank Clark, his journey from high school all the way to Michigan — and what he believes he can do for Kansas City.
With that in mind, I decided to forego the typical film review, letting Danna himself tell you about what he does well — and what you can expect from him in 2020 and beyond.
Danna is very good at making the run fits whole in the front, and has the technique to get to where he needs to go.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) April 28, 2020
A blitz is on, and the offense audibles to an interior run. Danna does an excellent job covering the A gap from the 5-tech spot, stuffing for no gain. pic.twitter.com/fpvTSxKYU7
“That pertains to being a student of the game. That’s my job — and that’s what the 10 other people on the field are relying on me to do: my job. I have a gap t’s my responsibility and I have people counting on me to take care of my responsibility. That’s very big — and I try to do it to the best of my abilities.”
When you watch Dann’s film, one of the first things that jumps out is his ability to read the play and do his job — plus that little bit extra. Danna is very obviously a film junkie, routinely making plays he’s identified through his preparation.
Daly and Spagnuolo ask their down linemen to be gap-sound. To them, it’s a very big deal — and it’s necessary to make the the front work the way they want. That won’t be a problem for Danna; he is definitely a proponent of meeting his responsibility. After the Chiefs selected him, Daly gushed about Danna’s football IQ — and it definitely shows up when you watch him play.
Attacking pulling blockers
Mike Danna is a smart player that definitely abides by the Chiefs "do your job PLUS" mentality.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) April 28, 2020
OT climbs & Danna pinches the gap. He attacks the puller's interior shoulder, squeezes the gap further, THEN engages the pulling H-Back, clogging the lane and making the stop. pic.twitter.com/3mtcDSaZl9
“I’m a smart football player. I play sound football and smart football. I’m extremely physical. If I feel like I can out-physical anybody on the football field, it’s gonna be a long day for them.”
Initially there was some confusion over where Danna might play. He doesn’t possess Spagnuolo’s typical size requirements for his defensive ends — but fear not: he definitely plays like one.
Danna is an extremely physical player. He wants to impose his will on the blocker across from him in order to wear him down. This physicality really shines when the opposition sends a pulling blocker his way. When Danna is unblocked with a scraping linebacker behind him, he attacks the back side puller — or two — and is incredibly disruptive to the overall blocking scheme.
Another example of doing the job and going that little bit extra.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) April 28, 2020
Head up with the tight end, Danna covers the interior gap with his eyes reading the counter. Seeing the pulling guard, Danna squeeze the gap further and steps in, stacking the guard in the gap, anchoring to fill. pic.twitter.com/1GbjVrPOGe
“That’s just me being a physical football player. When you see another man coming to block you out or pancake you, all you gotta do is throw your head in there and give it your all. You do what you’ve been coached and you know that you’re going to win. I’m a competitor. I’m going to fight to the end of the whistle. Me being physical and me being a competitor is a lot of the reason why I won a lot of those battles.”
Even when he’s blocked up by the play, Danna routinely flashes to half-man, squeezes the gap and throws himself into the puller to keep his teammates clean. This isn’t a 300-plus pound defensive lineman who is anchoring against a double team. This is a 260-pound defensive end who showcases strength and leverage to build a wall in front of the running back to keep the linebackers free.
On the field, Danna already plays with the Spagnuolo mentality. He’s tough and fearless — and places his responsibility to the team at the highest rung of the ladder. He often embodies the “Do your job plus” mantra the Chiefs defensive staff pushed in 2019.
Danna lined up quite a bit inside for Michigan as well, despite a smaller build. He still won with good technique, but showcased terrific balance as well.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) April 28, 2020
OL try to cut block the DL and open the throwing lane. Danna keeps his feet, drives upfield, and hits the QB for an INT. pic.twitter.com/TlVP8LD6uc
“All I really need is a playbook. Tell me my technique, my fundamentals and that’s what I’m going to rely on. Especially when I get put in situations like that where guys are much bigger than me, I have to rely and fall back on my technique and my fundamentals. That’s going to save me a lot more than trying to do something extraordinary that I’ve not been coached — and then getting pancaked... but whatever coach tells me. If he needs me inside, then I’ll play inside. That’s part of me being a team player.”
Spagnuolo often asks his defensive ends to kick inside on passing downs to rush the passer. Michigan adopted a similar strategy with Danna, pushing him all the way to a 0-technique — head up with the center — on some plays. He already possesses that inside-out versatility that the Chiefs covet, so the adjustment should be a bit easier.
Danna is a very willing teammate and player. Several times through our interview, he mentioned his team first — and doing what needs to be done. We’ve seen Daly build some stellar defensive lines by adding versatile, disciplined players along the front. Danna appears to be coming to Kansas City with that exact mindset.
Danna looked more explosive playing a little lighter at Central Michigan. His get-off was better and he was able to threaten with speed more often.— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) April 28, 2020
He converts his speed to power, turning and stabbing into the chest, knocking the OT off-balance. Back to speed for the pressure. pic.twitter.com/lwlRy3GYWO
[Regarding his 42” vertical jump while weighing 250 pounds] “I was doing that my redshirt freshman year, so my sophomore year of college, I was jumping 40”-plus. That’s when I knew something wasn’t right with me.”
Danna was asked to put on some extra weight when he transferred to Michigan. So he looked a little less explosive than he did during his Central Michigan days — when he racked up 50+ pressures in both 2017 and 2018.
That said, some of Danna’s best pass rush reps at CMU were explosive. He routinely threatened the edge and beat tackles up the arc with his speed. He used that speed to set up power moves and counters well — and he possesses a strong toolbox of pass-rushing moves.
If the Chiefs can fully unlock that explosion — which Danna clearly possesses — his ability to threaten tackles with speed rushes could make him a good pass rusher at the next level.
The bottom line
Mike Danna is a Steve Spagnuolo/Brendan Daly guy. There should be zero question about why they’re excited about acquiring him.
He’s a smart player who is aggressive and fearless. He plays a physical brand of football while staying disciplined and working in sync with his teammates. He possesses some rare athletic ability, too. In the history of the NFL Combine, only nine defensive linemen weighing 250 pounds or more have posted a vertical jump of 40” or more. He also has the work ethic and competitive nature that is going to endear him to the coaching staff.
I enjoyed getting to speak to Danna and learn more about him. I’m definitely rooting for him to make a major impact on the team — both on and off the field.