Even in 2018, one of the oldest sayings in football still rings true. The three most important guys on the field are the quarterback, the guy who gets after the quarterback, and the guy who tries to stop him.
Iowa centre James Daniels is near the top of the pecking order not only for the offensive linemen, but all players entering the 2018 NFL Draft.
RAF Big Board Ranking: #13
Height: 6’ 3”
Weight: 295 Ibs
Bench Press: 21.5 reps
Vertical Jump: 30.5 inches
Broad Jump: 108 inches
3 Cone Drill: 7.29 seconds
20-yard Shuttle: 4.4 seconds
The first thing you notice when you pop in the tape on Daniels is how he explodes off the ball. He is exceptionally gifted at getting into the second level of the defense as soon as he snaps the ball, unafraid to take on whatever linebacker might be in his path.
Often, you’ll see him ending up five or more yards down the field from the line of scrimmage by the time a play has concluded. It makes him a valuable piece in the running game for whoever drafts him, and the agility also extends to horizontal running on screen passes.
His football IQ is another aspect of his game that shouldn’t go unnoticed. Daniels is constantly cutting off defenders, taking the quickest route to his man and consistently making the smart play in pass blocking. His positioning is usually on point, and he can direct traffic well in the middle of the offensive line. He’s careful with his hands to use them as weapons against a defender, but not to hook them as they try to get around him.
Versatility is going to help his draft stock when it gets to be crunch time with teams on the clock. Whoever drafts him will be doing it for his college career, and rightfully so. He dominated in the middle of the Iowa offensive line, and is the best player in the draft at the all important centre position.
But his mobility means there could also be a place for him somewhere as a guard who can pull outside very well, or maybe as a tackle a few years down the line if he hones in on his pass blocking.
Speaking of pass blocking, the flip side of how mobile he is in the run blocking game is it can leave a little bit to be desired at times when he has to stay at home. When he’s engaged in the rough and tumble battles lasting multiple seconds with his quarterback in the pocket, he can start to run into a little bit of trouble.
It’s not necessarily a lack of size that keeps him from fending off the big defensive tackles, but sometimes he doesn’t play with the size he has. Daniels needs to develop more aggression and physicality in those one-on-one battles at the line of scrimmage as opposed to those nimble feet and agility advantages he had against college pass rushers who weren’t as finely tuned as the ones he’ll be facing at the next level.
To that point, technique in the long battles is going to be a point of focus for him in his rookie season. He’s more than capable of being something of a field general and pushing into the linebackers with his foot speed, but the wars lasting multiple seconds could be where he’s susceptible. A team with a pocket passer at quarterback running the lion’s share of their plays out of the shotgun might not be the best fit for Daniels.
Daniels is the best centre in the draft, and that will automatically put him near the top of at least a few big boards in war rooms across the league. He’s got the potential to be a day one starter, and the flaws in his game can be coached out by a good staff.
Draft Prediction: The middle to back end of the first round, probably somewhere in the 20s.