Each day leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, I’ll break down one of my top 50 prospects. In some cases, we had to make tough omissions because of injuries, poor pre-draft workouts or incomplete information. For more complete scouting reports on all the prospects, check out the Pro Football Weekly 2018 Draft Guide, which is available for order now.
19. Iowa C-OG James Daniels
6-foot-3, 306 pounds
Key stats: Spearheaded outstanding, balanced effort vs. Ohio State in 2017 in which the Hawkeyes ran for 243 yards (6.4 yards per rush) and passed for 244.
The skinny: The brother of NFL running back LeShun Daniels (who has spent time with the New England Patriots, Los Angeles Chargers and Washington), the Ohio-bred James Daniels turned down offers from a slew of big schools — including Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Penn State and Wisconsin — to follow his brother and commit to the Hawkeyes as a four-star recruit. Contributed immediately as a true freshman, playing in 14 games and starting two (at left guard, including the Rose Bowl vs. Stanford).
Held out of spring practice in 2016 following knee surgery but moved to center and started all 11 games he played in 2016, earning third team All-Big Ten honors by coaches. Started the opener vs. Miami (Ohio) but missed the following two games (Iowa State and North Dakota State) with a knee injury. Started all 12 games in which he played in 2017, missing the opener vs. Wyoming, and earned honorable mention all-conference honors.
Daniels, who turns 21 in September, declared for the 2018 NFL draft following the season. A hamstring injury prevented him from participating in the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, but he performed very well in positional drills there. Daniels opted not to run the 40 at his pro day either.
Upside: Agility drills at combine placed him in the top 10th percentile; explosion drills (jumps) placed him in the top 20th percentile. Played at closer to 290-295 pounds during season but appeared to move just as well 10-15 pounds heavier at the combine. Has room to add bulk and strength as he hits his physical prime.
One of the better interior run blockers in this year’s class. Nice controlled movement — fluid and patient. Great initial quickness off the snap and shows the ability to make tough reach blocks, even against quick 3-technique tackles. Maxes out arm length to bump and steer rushers off their course and out of harm’s way. Nice hip flexion and knee bend for a zone scheme.
Check out how Daniels (No. 78) works up to the second level and creates a nice seal in the run game on Iowa’s game-winning drive in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl vs. Boston College:
Clean technical form for a young player. Doesn’t turn 21 until the regular season — just starting to scratch the surface of his potential. Has played center, guard and tackle (briefly) in three years. Strong football IQ, awareness and feel for the game. Comes from Iowa program that consistently has cranked out NFL-ready talent on the offensive line for years. Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz said Daniels was the most-NFL ready center he’s ever coached.
Downside: By no means a pile driver. Big nose tackles will bully him and walk him back at times. Squatty build and smaller hands. Lacks functional power to drive block vs. NFL mass. Upper-body strength (21 reps on bench press) stands to improve. Waist-bender. Not as effective when asked to sustain blocks for longer-developing plays.
Reaction times must quicken. More than once we noticed Daniels a step slow to react to underneath pressure on stunts and twists, and that appeared to show up in combine drills when he didn’t mirror as quickly as you’d like to see. Not as effective clearing the way on screens as you might prefer (on the ones in the four games we watched). Seemed to have trouble navigating contact at times on the second level.
Here’s a rep Daniels lost against 255-pound North Texas DE Andy Flusche, who beats Daniels to the spot on the outside zone run and helps blow the play up:
A tad bit flag-prone for an interior lineman — nine penalties past two seasons combined. Shotgun snaps were a bit erratic here and there. A team we spoke to said that Daniels’ line-call responsibilities were a bit limited. Not the cleanest medical history — knee issues have caused him to miss time periodically.
Best-suited destination: Ideal zone-blocking center or guard who should be able to compete for a starting job as a rookie and elevate to Pro Bowl status by Year 2 or 3. Health willing, he has a chance to be a 10-year starter in the league. Among the teams that make sense for Daniels include the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Seattle Seahawks, Miami Dolphins, Atlanta Falcons, Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Bears.
Quotable: “I know he didn't run [the 40-yard dash], but man, he's one of the cleanest players when you watch. He can do everything.” — NFL Network analyst and former NFL offensive lineman Shaun O'Hara, at the NFL scouting combine
Player comp: Rodney Hudson (Daniels isn’t as powerful at the point of attack as Hudson but has a similar skill set)
Expected draft range: Top-40 pick
50. Oregon RB Royce Freeman
49. South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert
48. LSU DE-LB Arden Key
47. Ohio State C Billy Price
46. Alabama S Ronnie Harrison
45. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
44. Texas A&M S Armani Watts
43. South Carolina TE Hayden Hurst
42. UCF CB Mike Hughes
41. USC RB Ronald Jones II
40. Maryland WR D.J. Moore
39. UTEP OG Will Hernandez
38. Stanford DT Harrison Phillips
37. Ohio State DE Sam Hubbard
36. Stanford S Justin Reid
35. Oregon OT Tyrell Crosby
34. SMU WR Courtland Sutton
33. Penn State TE Mike Gesicki
32. Colorado CB Isaiah Oliver
31. Georgia OL Isaiah Wynn
30. Texas A and M WR Christian Kirk
29. Alabama LB Rashaan Evans
28. Alabama WR Calvin Ridley
27. Michigan DT Maurice Hurst
26. Texas OT Connor Williams
25. Georgia RB Sony Michel
24. LSU RB Derrius Guice
23. Boise State LB Leighton Vander Esch
22. Florida DT Taven Bryan
21. Wyoming QB Josh Allen
20. Notre Dame OT Mike McGlinchey