Tuesday, May 22, 2012

After the disappointment, there is at least one perk that comes with a player's failure to be drafted: the possibility of hand-picking a situation that, on the surface, offers the best path onto an NFL roster.

Matt Daniels would like to think he discovered such a path.

Ten minutes after the final pick was announced in April's NFL draft, the safety from Duke was ready to sign as a free agent with the Rams. It was a no-brainer for the All-Atlantic Coast Conference player after his agent revealed that the Rams had only three safeties under contract.

"That was the reason I came here," Daniels said. "It's the biggest opportunity to actually make a roster and make an impact. It wasn't about money or getting a big signing bonus or going to the team that's predicted to win the Super Bowl. The reason you come here is the opportunity to play and help a team win and go to a Super Bowl."

Daniels hopes to take advantage of one, maybe two, roster spots, as do rookie free agents Rodney McLeod from Virginia and Quinton Pointer from UNLV. The 6-foot, 211-pounder offers the most impressive physical package and credentials after he earned second-team All-America honors from the Walter Camp Foundation.

A big hitter whose speed has come into question, Daniels hopes to join a safety unit that includes Craig Dahl, Quintin Mikell and Darian Stewart. McLeod finds himself in the same situation entering the team's second week of organized team activities.

"I felt I'd fit in here," McLeod said. "They're going in a new direction and I realized as far as the safety situation, there weren't many. So it's a good shot for me as well as special teams."

Daniels was projected as a late-round pick and arrives as the highest rated of the free agent safeties. But they've known about him in his hometown of Fayetteville, Ga., for quite a while.

He started making a name for himself in youth football, and a highlight tape of his exploits comes complete with some jarring hits.

"I have always been hard hitting," he said. "You can go on Youtube and find my little league tape. It's bad. Me being able to hit hard has just been God-given talent since I was little. There were some brutal hits on there — things little 8-year-olds shouldn't be doing. People ask all the time, 'How do you hit so hard?' I just stick my face in there and it works."

Daniels frequently is categorized as a "box" safety, but he doesn't accept that designation. As a senior, he had 126 tackles, two interceptions and 14 pass breakups.

"The system I was put in at Duke, that's what it made me out to be," he said. "I wasn't an in-the-box safety, I just played close to the line. I was able to make an impact. You don't become an All-American just being a box safety."

Daniels also hopes he has ended talk that he is too slow. He ran a 4.49-second 40 at Duke's pro day. And he has the smarts to go with his athletic ability.

Daniels was named Duke's male student-athlete of the year after becoming a four-time member of the ACC academic honor roll and graduating with a degree in public policy.

Meanwhile, McLeod is trying to douse the idea that he is too small for the NFL. The Rams list him at 5-10, which apparently is what he measures on a good day.

"It's all about how you play on the field," he said. "If your play shows good things on film, then size doesn't matter. That's been my motto since I've been playing football. I've never been a big guy."

McLeod started all 13 games for Virginia last season and finished with 57 tackles, seven breakups and four interceptions, three of which came in one 18-minute spurt against Maryland. Pointer, who is 5-9, 186, had 59 tackles and two interceptions.