Former Hawkeye center James Daniels on the importance of being able to think on the fly Mark Emmert/Hawk Central
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — James Daniels keeps pushing himself into the conversation of first-round NFL Draft pick.
The Ohio native, who left Iowa after his junior season, was regarded as one of the top center prospects entering the NFL Scouting Combine. What Daniels did Friday during his individual drills only helped his cause.
“There was a lot of buzz coming in here. There will be even more buzz coming out. That’s what you want as a prospect,” said Matt Bowen, who is an NFL analyst with ESPN. “It’s not the end-all, be-all by any means. You’ve still got your Pro Day. You’ve still got to interview with teams. But it’s a really good start.
“There’s a real chance he jumps into the back end of the first round.”
Daniels did jump Friday — a vertical leap of 30.5 inches and a broad jump of 108 inches that both ranked among the top 10 of participating offensive linemen — but it was the agility and speed he showed during individual drills that were most impressive to scouts.
Scouts wanted to see how Daniels moved, and he was as good as any interior line prospect here in that regard. He zipped through the three-cone drill in 7.29 seconds, third-fastest among offensive linemen.
Daniels skipped the 40-yard dash to rest an ailing hamstring. He can still do that at Iowa’s Pro Day later this month, where the initial 10-yard split will be the most telling data point.
But he appeared to answer any other questions in Indianapolis.
Former Iowa center James Daniels on a fateful conversation with Kirk Ferentz Mark Emmert/Hawk Central
What position will he play?
Daniels was Iowa’s starting center for two years, but spent some time as a freshman at guard and said Thursday he would have no problem playing there in the NFL. That may not be needed.
“People want centers. They want centers who are smart, who are technique-based, disciplined. That high football IQ, he has that,” said Bowen, a former Iowa player. “The center’s a little different than guard. You’ve got to be able to run to the second level. You’ve got to be able to pull. You’ve got to be able to counter pass rushers. You’ve got to work in tight areas and show that short-area quickness. And he showed that.”
Daniels was so impressive during the mirror drills, an exercise that tests footwork and hand placement, that the NFL Network's lead draft expert Mark Mayock called it "textbook" and told producers to hold onto the film.
What does the NFL want?
In short, someone who can block defensive tackles like the Rams’ Aaron Donald, a fierce-rushing 6-1, 285-pounder who has racked up 39 sacks in his first four seasons. You can’t let a quarterback face pressure up the middle consistently. Centers with the size (306 pounds) and lateral quickness of Daniels will be in demand. He projects as an immediate starter.
“A guy like that who’s lined up over you with the quickness and first-step ability, you have to have a guy whose got movement skills with that,” Bowen said.
“There might be somebody that would ask about (Daniels’) play strength, but I don’t see that as a concern. When you’re talking about a guy that could possibly go in the first round, you’re not going to find many weaknesses.”
Who does he compare to?
NFL teams don’t often use first-round draft picks on centers, but Daniels draws parallels to former Wisconsin Badger Travis Frederick, taken by the Cowboys with the 31st pick in 2013.
“Daniels is more athletic than Frederick,” Bowen said. “He can play a little top-heavy at times outside of his base. But technique is something that can be corrected. You’re talking about a 20-year-old young man. There’s plenty of times to teach those. What you can’t teach are the athletic traits, and that’s what we found out here.”
What's next for Daniels?
Iowa’s Pro Day is March 26. But that won’t be the extent of the drilling for Daniels. He figures to get plenty of individual workouts with NFL teams who will fly to Iowa City to put him through the paces. He had formal interviews with 20 teams while in Indianapolis. The interest is high.
“Whether that’s zone-blocking or how they teach blocking, footwork, working on the bags,” Bowen said of individual workouts. “At the end of the day, it goes back to his game tape, and I think he’s got pretty clean game tape.
“There’s a history of offensive linemen coming out of Iowa and their longevity and how pro-ready they are. He looks to be the next one of those.”