The Craig Dahl signing may be the best steal of free agency. Despite what you may have read or heard, Dahl is tremendous player who has been the scapegoat of a bad defense for reasons beyond his control and whose skills have been utilized improperly. I am a big Rams fan and am very sorry to see him go, especially to a team in the NFC West. Here is why you should be sad about the Craig Dahl signing.
Dahl is a very athletic player. He posted one of the fastest 60 yard shuttle times at the combine….Of any player… At any position… Ever. (http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=ycn-7712230) He also posted the second fastest L Drill time for safeties of the 2007 combine (http://www.parisischool.com/programs/NFLCombineResults.html). Add in the fact that he put up 17 bench press reps (http://www.nfl.com/player/craigdahl/2495585/combine) and you can see that Dahl is actually a pretty athletic guy. As further evidence of his athleticism, his football background includes playing quarterback in high school (which should also give him an edge on reading offenses) (http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/players/historical/1226150). He is also intelligent off the field as he was only the second player in NDSU history to be awarded CoSIDA Academic All-American honors.
Dahl is a tremendous tackler. According to Pro Football Focus, there was not a single safety in the entire league who tackled better than Dahl in 2011 (https://www.profootballfocus.com/blog/2012/01/25/2011-tackling-the-safeties/). Not a single safety in the entire made tackles with Dahl's efficiency. If you have NFL Rewind and really want to nerd out, watch the Rams vs. Panthers game from 2010 and try telling Dahl does not look like one of the absolute best in the NFL. The guy really makes plays.
So if he is this talented, why do so many Rams' fans hate him?
The team around Dahl set him up to be the perfect scapegoat. The Rams defensive ends over the past three years have (Chris Long, Robert Quinn and James Hall) been pretty good pass rushers, but not very effective against the run. Our OLBs, outside of Jo-Lonn Dunbar, have been among the worst in the league (Rocky McIntosh, Chris Chamberlain, Brady Poppinga and Na'il Diggs). This allowed opposing RBs the chance to get to the third level easier against the Rams than just about any team in the league. So, when Dahl made a tackle it was after a 15 yard run and Rams fans would gripe that he only made tackles after big runs by the opposition. Nevermind that the Rams coaching staff had Dahl routinely line up 25 to 30 yards off the line of scrimmage and if Dahl had not made the tackle the opposition likely had a touchdown.
It is no coincidence that when Dahl went out for a play against the Patriots this year, Steven Ridley ran for his career long run. For something closer to home for 49er fans, if you have NFL Rewind, watch the 49ers at the Rams again from this year. Dahl made three open field tackles against Gore that were likely touchdown saving tackles. Dahl rightly gets criticized for missing Adrian Peterson this year which led to big runs. But, this shows just how much the Rams were relying on him to make plays in the running game, and if your complaint is that he had a bad game against a guy having perhaps the best season running the football ever, I think you will be able to live with that.
The Rams secondary also experienced a rash of injuries in 2011 that is almost unprecedented (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stat-analysis/2013/2012-adjusted-games-lost-team-units). To quote that article, "The 2011 Rams finished with the third-highest defensive back AGL in our database (36.6)." As one of the only guys who could stay on the field, Dahl became a target for criticism. Also, Dahl's strongest skill is his reliable tackling ability. With so many corners injured, he was asked to play more of a role in pass coverage than he probably should have.
Third, Dahl was brought in by Spagnuolo from the Giants. Coach Spags' players have not been too popular with Rams fans for good reason, given our awful record over his tenure.
Fourth, and this one makes very little sense, many Rams fans would bring up that he reminds them of Jason Sehorn, the last white safety to play for the Rams. Of course, Sehorn is best remembered in St. Louis for letting Steve Smith blow by him the second overtime of the NFC Divisional playoffs in 2003, so seeing another white safety stirred up bad memories.
Fifth, he is from a small school and went undrafted. That just makes him an easy target for criticism.
In conclusion, the 49ers are getting a steal with Craig Dahl. He is tremendous tackler and can be a great role player on a championship team. I would imagine that Harbough will use his strengths much better than the Spagnuolo and Fisher did in St. Louis and 49er fans will be more than happy with his play. He is a pretty athletic, makes plays and from all accounts appears to be a team first guy with no ego. He should have been a fan favorite in St. Louis. After all, who does not like a hard-nosed player who doesn't miss tackles and beat the odds to make to the NFL from a small school like NDSU. Instead, he became a scapegoat because of his association with the franchise's most reviled coach, his small school background and the coaching staff's inability to use his skill set properly.
Enjoy 49er fans, you just signed a very good player.