HomeFootball DirtJayden Daniels, LSU's Heisman-Winning Quarterback, Gaining Traction on Draft Boards

Jayden Daniels, LSU’s Heisman-Winning Quarterback, Gaining Traction on Draft Boards

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For much of the past year, it has been a two-man race at the top of the quarterback prospect rankings for the 2024 NFL Draft, with USC’s Caleb Williams sitting at a commanding 1 and North Carolina’s Drake Maye trailing at 2. Don’t look now, but LSU quarterback, and now the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Jayden Daniels is reportedly gaining steam in the race for the top-two, according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated.

Daniels is fairly new to this conversation. The fifth-year starter spent three seasons at Arizona State before finding his way to LSU. After an impressive freshman year that saw him throw for nearly 3,000 yards and 17 touchdowns to just two interceptions, COVID-19 limited Daniels and the Sun Devils to only four games in 2020, in which he would throw five touchdowns and only one interception. He would also add four scores on the ground as a sophomore, an improvement in only four games over his three-touchdown total as a freshman. His final year in Tempe saw Daniels struggle, throwing only 10 touchdowns and rushing for six, but throwing a career-high 10 interceptions.

Daniels would transfer to LSU the following year and immediately show the promise from his freshman season, with almost identical passing stats of nearly 3,000 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, and three interceptions, while adding on 885 rushing yards for 11 more scores on the ground. Daniels would elevate things to a whole new level in his Heisman-winning campaign. Utilizing his extra COVID year of eligibility, Daniels returned to throw for 3,812 yards, completing 72.2 percent of his passes for an outstanding 40 touchdowns to only four picks. He elevated his rushing, too, racking up 1,134 yards for 10 more touchdowns.

Now this certainly isn’t a consensus decision, but all it takes is one team to believe in what Daniels has to offer over Maye in order to secure his status as a top draft pick in April. According to Breer, at least one NFL executive is feeling that way. Breer explains that he was tasked with determining if Daniels has a chance at all to catch Maye as the second-best quarterback in the draft.

An AFC executive replied that it’s already happened, saying, “It might be going in the opposite direction. Jayden is pulling away from Drake for me…He makes every throw, his deep accuracy is rare, he’s explosive as a runner but is a pocket passer. It’s like (Deshaun Watson).”

Others maybe weren’t ready to go that far but offered the sentiment that, even if Daniels hasn’t quite reached Maye’s level, there isn’t much separation between the two, though the quarterbacks are considered “different types of players.” An NFC executive agreed, saying that the gap is “not big anymore,” and that if a team is willing to build around his skillset, like the Colts are trying to do with Anthony Richardson, he could end up going just as early.

There are still others who don’t quite see Daniels encroaching on Maye. An AFC scout gave his evaluation, stating that he sees a floor of Dak Prescott and a ceiling of Justin Herbert for Maye, claiming he projects as a potential Pro Bowler. On the flipside, he sees Daniels as more of a system quarterback with a ceiling comparison of Jimmy Garoppolo or Kirk Cousins. That scout praises Daniels’ athleticism but doesn’t hold the same esteem for his abilities as a passer.

It’s a common argument that we’ve seen time and again. Regardless of the dissenting opinions, it appears that Daniels has done enough in Baton Rouge this year to put himself in the conversation. Once considered a likely Day 3 draft pick, Daniels is having his name tossed around with a potential top-five pick. If he keeps it up through the NFL Scouting Combine and his pro day, Daniels could end up in the top few picks among Williams and Maye.

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