Baltimore Ravens rookie offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has come a long way in his development in a short amount of time. When the team selected him in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL draft out of Minnesota, many viewed him as a raw prospect that projected as more of project than a immediate starter.
“In my mind, I’ve improved just everywhere in general,” Faalele said in a press conference on August 14, 2022. “With conditioning, my stamina, being able to compete with older guys and the defense here. Just overall, getting a better grasp of the playbook and everything.”
At 6-foot-8 and 380 pounds, the former Golden Gopher is biggest player on the roster by far and possesses elite athleticism for someone of his physical dimensions. During the pre-draft process, several analysts questioned whether he’d be able to play and hold up at the pro level at his size.
Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman believes that Faalele has been “coming along by leaps and bounds” and he is “really happy with him” in his development since joining the team. After struggling to get through practices in the offseason program, the first-year offensive lineman showed great maturity by opting to stay in town and working with the strength and conditioning staff during the summer break.
“I really think that allowed him to come into training camp in much better shape, and ready to compete,” Roman said in a press conference on August 14, 2022. “So, arrow up for him. [I’m] really excited about him. When we get him and another one of our big guys double teaming a three-technique … Warms my heart.”
As hard as those workouts were, Faalele says that “they were definitely needed” and were key to helping him pass the conditioning test and get used to his new surroundings.
“It was just important to me to stay around the facility, and get acclimated to the weather, and stay in the program and just keep working with [head strength and conditioning] Coach [Steve] Saunders,” he said. “I just wanted to make that commitment to myself and to my teammates that I’m all in, and I want to be at my best when training camp comes around.”
Typically players and especially offensive tackles of Faalele’s stature tend to be a little stiff with limited flexibility but Roman sees the rookie as a rare exception.
“He’s very flexible; he bends well,” Roman said. “He can play with a flat back for a guy his size, which is fairly remarkable. So, I don’t think he’s very much limited due to size, in terms of leverage and certain things. He has excellent feet. He just has to continue to work and learn how to play this game at this level.”
Hard Work Paying Off Already
His dedication paid off and showed itself in his NFL debut in Week 1 of the preseason in which he played over 60 snaps and performed well in the Ravens’ 23-10 win over the Tennessee Titans. Faalele was strong at the point of attack and made some impressive blocks both in run blocking as well as pass protection.
“I felt like I was able to get more comfortable with the game and how it flows,” Faalele. “Just playing in my first NFL game was a huge accomplishment for me, and I just felt so grateful to put on that purple and black and represent the Ravens.”
Getting the experience that comes with playing in a live NFL game, exhibition, or otherwise was “definitely a big confidence boost” for the 22-year-old that wasn’t introduced to the game until he was almost out of high school. He knows he has much more room to grow and even outlined where he’d like to focus on getting better.
“One thing I want to apply is just to have a lower pad level,” Faalele said. “Especially in the run game, because I felt like I wasn’t using all my strength and power to displace the linemen in combinations and stuff.”
Year 1 Expectations
The Ravens made upgrading and fortifying their offensive line one of their top priorities this offseason, especially at tackle where their depth was abysmal in 2021. In addition to drafting Faalele, the team signed veteran right tackle Morgan Moses in free agency and got back Ja’Wuan James from injury after nearly two years off due to injuries and opting out of the COVID-19 season.
“All of the older tackles are helping me get comfortable with the playbook and the environment,” Faalele said. “Just learning from them on how to prepare and practice, and just be a pro, really.”
While he hasn’t been ruled out of the running, Faalele isn’t expected to begin the season as the team’s starting right tackle or even the top swing tackle given James’ performance in both practice and preseason at left tackle after spending his entire career to date on the right side. He is also a right tackle by trade but is open to playing on the blindside if needed.
“I feel great at any position,” he said. “My whole thing being here is just to help the team win at any position, and anywhere I can. So, [I’m] trying new positions, seeing what I can bring to the table and to help the team win.”
As a rookie, he will likely be utilized as an extra blocker in heavy packages as well as goal-line and short-yardage situations. He could see the field late in games in which the Ravens are leading by a wide margin and will probably be the top backup on the right side so that James can remain the primary backup behind All-Pro left tackle, Ronnie Stanley.